When one of Sudan’s most powerful paramilitary leaders returned for peace talks in his stronghold of Darfur, not everyone was on board.
The leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo or “Hemeti”, reached several reconciliation deals earlier this year, including some with his rivals, to end the intermittent fighting that has blighted the region over the past year. A wider agreement was also signed between the military and political parties in December.
But many Sudanese have protested or criticised the deals, demanding that members of Hemeti’s own Rzeigat Arab tribe and the RSF face punishment for their alleged role in killing hundreds of people in the region in recent years, according to Human Rights Watch.
Now, some of those dissenters say they have been detained by the RSF and held without charge.
“I went inside a big intelligence office. The [RSF] had a lot of questions about who I am and why I don’t want peace and stability,” said Faisal, 25, who added that he had spent three days in prison and asked Al Jazeera not to disclose his surname for fear of reprisal.
According to the Darfur Bar Association, approximately 350 people were detained without charge across the province between June and August. Dozens, including Faisal, have been released. But the legal group says that many are still languishing in prison for their real or perceived rejection of Hemeti’s reconciliation agreements.
Critics say that the arrests are part of a broader plot by the RSF to consolidate power in Darfur since backing a military coup in October 2021, which upended the country’s frail democratic transition.
“Before the coup, the people [in west Darfur] didn’t want the RSF here. The RSF only came back … after the coup,” said Nahid Hamid, a human rights lawyer from the African Masalit tribe. The Masalit, along with media and human rights organisations, have accused the RSF and the Rzeigat of attacking them in recent years. “There is no justice and no rule of law. The whole situation [with the arrests] is unlawful.”
Al Jazeera attempted to contact the RSF spokesman General Osman Hamdan and Sudan’s public prosecutor Khalifa Ahmed Khalifa several times, yet neither could be reached for comment.
But Fadil Barus, a member of the Rzeigat tribe, said that the reconciliation agreements were welcomed by him and many others from his community. His views reflect a broader opinion among Sudanese that identify as Arabs in Darfur, with many viewing the Masalit as equal aggressors. (AlJazeera)