The NIF-dominated government of Sudan has armed ethnically-based militias and other armed groups in conflict areas within Sudan, according to a wide range of sources that include former Sudanese officers who claimed to have been directly involved in these operations and escaped child soldiers of a Sudanese government-backed rebel group interviewed by Human Rights Watch. The government of Sudan has also armed rebel groups based in the country and operating in neighboring states, and it has facilitated their supply and training through collaboration with independent actors, such as the Saudi financier Usama bin Laden, according to defecting military officers. As evidence of direct Sudanese government involvement with these groups, Human Rights Watch saw and photographed antipersonnel mines and antitank mines of the same type and nearly identical lot numbers that were buried in heavily-traveled roads in Eritrea, taken from anti-government forces in Uganda, and stored in large quantities in Sudanese government arms depots in southern Sudan.
The Sudanese governments practice of arming ethnically-based militias and other irregular forces to serve as auxiliaries in its battle with the SPLA traces back at least to the previous government of deposed Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi.149 One former army officer, who said he served as a liaison officer in the early 1990s with a breakaway SPLA splinter group led by Commander William Nyuon before he was killed, claimed that all armed groups allied with the government of Sudan against the SPLA were assigned a Military Intelligence liaison officer.150 These officers carried radios to maintain regular contact with Sudanese army outposts, and arranged for air drops of arms, ammunition, and other supplies. Weapons the government of Sudan furnished to these armed groups included G-3s, Kalashnikovs, mortars, light machine guns, and landmines. The liaison officers also provided military training, intelligence information and, at times, disinformation to the groups in an effort to stir up conflict among opponents of the government of Sudan in the region.
Among the ethnically-based groups which received direct Sudanese government support, including the assignment of a liaison officer, were a group consisting of Lotohus in Equatoria (though many Lotohus remained in areas under SPLA control), anti-SPLA Toposas near the Kenyan border, and Mandaris from the Terakeka area north of Juba. The SSIM/A forces under Riek Machar also received direct support.151
Evidence that the government of Sudan also supported rebel forces operating in neighboring states came from a variety of sources. In the case of Uganda, this support traces back at least to the late 1980s, under the Sadiq al-Mahdi government, when Sudan assisted a now-defunct movement drawn from the mostly Muslim Aringas region of northern Uganda. In the mid-1990s, Sudanese Military Intelligence routinely maintained radio contact with Sudanese operatives traveling with anti-government rebels operating in northern Uganda who radioed back intelligence information, one former Sudanese military officer toldHuman Rights Watch.152 This information was then relayed to leaders of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), active in northeastern Uganda, or the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF), active in northwestern Uganda. These were the two largest armed opposition groups operating in Uganda prior to March 1997, when Sudanese government forces were routed from the border area and the WNBF was decimated. The secret Sudanese intelligence unit that provided the main link with both the LRA and the WNBF was headquartered in Torit, according to the former military officer.
Throughout this period, the government of Sudan provided training and arms to the LRA, which operated along Sudans southeastern border with Uganda, according to the former military officer and child soldiers who had escaped the LRA interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Gulu, Uganda.153 For their part, Sudanese government officials denied any connection with the LRA, whose members were drawn from the Acholi people who straddle the Sudan-Uganda border, claiming that any LRA movement into or out of Sudanese territory was done without Sudanese government knowledge or support, especially after the spring 1997 SPLA military offensive.154 However, a former officer in the Sudanese military told Human Rights Watch that from 1995 to 1996 he was assigned to work with the LRA in southern Sudan in an area near Nimule, reporting routinely by radio to a liaison officer in Torit.155
The LRA provides a case study in Sudanese government involvement in cross-border conflicts. The group derived from a Christian cult originally launched by Alice Lakwena to mount an armed challenge to the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni, shortly after his forces seized power in Kampala in 1986. After a crushing defeat, Lakwena fled to a refugee camp in Kenya, but one of her followers, Joseph Kony, took charge of the remnants and built the LRA, which launched raids across northeastern Uganda and press-ganged children into their armed force, often forcing them to participate in torture and execution-style murders of would-be escapees to complete their initiation and to instill fear of running away.156 LRA leaders were in the midst of negotiations with the Kampala government in 1993 when, according to former LRA abductees, the government of Sudan stepped in and offered substantial training and resources.157 By 1996, the LRA, numbering as many as 6,000 fighters, succeeded in thoroughly destabilizing northern Uganda. In response, the Ugandan government herded civilians into protected hamlets, as agricultural production in the region plummeted and travel on the main roads became extremely hazardous without a military escort. While in Gulu, Human Rights Watch visited a camp for children who had escaped the LRA and were then under the care of the international charity World Vision. Two former LRA child fighters interviewed separately and without escort insisted they were trained and armed inside Sudan by uniformed Sudanese governmenttroops, echoing the published testimony of other LRA escapees.158 A Sudanese government official interviewed in Khartoum in 1997 denied that the government had supported the LRA in the past. However, he said, I would do it now in retaliation for what Uganda has done, but my hands are tied by policy.159
Human Rights Watch interviews conducted with former LRA abductees in northern Uganda in April 1998 show that Sudan has continued to provide active support to the LRA. The interviews clearly establish the names and locations of several LRA camps inside NIF-controlled territory, including Jebelin, Kit II and Musito. The former LRA abductees told Human Rights Watch that Sudanese government soldiers were stationed in or near the LRA camps, and constantly interacted with the LRA leadership. The interviewees described witnessing Sudanese Arab soldiers delivering weapons to the LRA via airplanes or lorries. The weapons included AKM assault rifles, landmines, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and guns with silencers. Several of the former child soldiers claimed that one of the primary activities of the LRA in Sudan was to fight against the SPLA.
The WNBF has operated primarily in northwestern Uganda, using bases in southern Sudan and in eastern Zaire. Its political roots trace back to breakaway forces of the defeated Ugandan army of former President Milton Obote under the command of Col. Juma Oris. The WNBF carried out ambushes and planted landmines within four kilometers of the town of Arua in northern Uganda as late as 1996. During the fighting in southern Sudan in March 1997, the rebels were dislodged as their base at Morobo was destroyed.160 Interviews with former LRA abductees conducted by Human Rights Watch in northern Uganda in April 1998 suggest that the remnants of the WNBF joined the LRA at the latters Aru camp shortly after the March fighting, which was in turn attacked by a combined UPDF/SPLA force on April 9-10, 1997.
Meanwhile, a wide variety of armed groups, many Islamist in orientation, have maintained safe houses and training facilities in and around Khartoum with the support of the NIF-controlled government, according to Sudanese opposition sources and a Sudanese defector who functioned as a NIF liaison with these groups in the mid-1990s.161 Many of these groups also received support from Iran and from wealthy individuals and nongovernmental organizations, the same sources said. In addition to those already mentioned, these groups included: the Islamic Group (Egypt), the Islamic Salvation Front (Algeria), the Oromo Liberation Front (Ethiopia), the Islamic Oromo Front (Ethiopia), the militia of the late Mohammed Farah Aideed (southern Somalia), Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (operating throughout the former Somalia), the Ethiopian Islamic Opposition (operating out of southern Somalia and the target of a 1997 cross-border raid by Ethiopian armed forces), the Tunisian Islamic Front, and other Islamist groups from countries ranging from Kenya to Niger, Gambia, and Senegal. Opposition leaders and defecting Sudanese army officers claimed that Iran helped finance many of these groups and that an Iranian general named Zayid was in chargeof experts who trained them. Sudan has issued members of these groups Sudanese passports for external travel, one defector said.162
Ethiopia claims to have captured evidence of Sudanese support for such groups in Somalia.163 Ethiopian officials blamed Sudanese-backed Islamist rebels operating out of Somalia for carrying out a series of bombings in major tourist hotels in Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa in early 1996. On August 8-9, 1996 and again in December 1996 for a more prolonged period, Ethiopian forces crossed into Somalia and raided the headquarters of Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (Islamic Union), the main armed Islamist opposition group operating there. Ethiopian officials claimed to have captured documents detailing Al-Ittihad's external contacts, including sources of funding and training, which they said implicated Sudan, though Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm this or gain access to copies of the materials. The documents were said by Ethiopian officials to have been provided to U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., for investigation. Ethiopian officials also claimed that radio intercepts of Sudanese transmissions from Mogadishu and Nairobi further incriminated Sudan in providing aid and training to violent Islamist groups throughout the region.164
Similarly, Eritrea has accused Sudan of supporting Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a rebel group active in Eritrea's western lowlands near Sudan. EIJ combatants have been captured with G-3s, Kalashnikov assault rifles, hand grenades, RPG-7 grenade launchers, and landmines. EIJ members have planted landmines in western Eritrea that match those provided to Sudanese troops and to Sudan-supported rebels in southern Sudan and Uganda. Human Rights Watch saw two antitank mines, which had already been disarmed and unburied, that were displayed by Eritrean officials who claimed they had been discovered on well-traveled rural roads in 1996, where they could not have been long in place without detonating.165 Human Rights Watch saw a third landmine of this exact type which had been left on a road that they had just traversed between Tessenei and Barentu in northwestern Eritrea and that was discovered by civilians living in the area when they noticed that the packed dirt road had been disturbed during the night. All three were new Belgian-made plastic landmines of the same design (PRB M-3), with the words pressure plate printed on their pressure plates in French, German, and Italian. Each had nearly identical lot numbers, suggesting that they were from the same shipment.166 They also corresponded in type, appearance, lot numbers, and stenciled Arabic instructions with landmines observed in former Sudanese government stores in southern Sudan and in stores of captured LRA ordnance in northern Uganda. In addition to this, Human Rights Watch saw antipersonnel mines of the same type in Eritrea, southern Sudan, and northern Uganda, all carrying similar Arabic markings and all held by Sudanese government forces or supplied to Sudan-backed rebel groups.
At the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) garrison in Gulu in northern Uganda, Human Rights Watch saw and photographed large quantities of antipersonnel and antitank mines taken from the LRA. They were sorted by type and labeled by date and place of capture. Both the antipersonnel and antitank mines matched the types of many of those seen in southern Sudan at Yei and Kaya, and those seen in Eritrea. Among the antitank mines were dozens of Belgian PRB M-3s, of a type seen in crates at the SPLA-held border post of Kaya, Sudan, that bore a shipping label to the Ministry of Defence and Aviation, Dammam, Saudi Arabia. (See chapter 4.) These mines may have arrived in Sudan directly from Saudi Arabia, or in a round-about way from Saudi Arabia via Afghanistan, where they were in use by the so-called Afghan Arabs, irregulars fighting the Soviet-backed government there in the 1980s with the financial support of Saudi millionaire Usama bin Laden and with arms supplied by the Saudi government, among others.
Bin Laden, the son of a wealthy Saudi construction magnate, was able to establish a powerful military and political presence in Sudan in the early 1990s, using a variety of business ventures to finance his activities. A Sudanese defecting military officer who worked closely with Bin Ladens operations in Sudan described a highly organized network of armed Islamist groups, tracing their roots to the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and linked through an advisory committee which Bin Laden controlled. Among the more than 500 veterans of the Afghan war were Tunisians, Algerians, Sudanese, Saudis, Syrians, Iraqis, Moroccans, Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Chechnyans, Bosnians and six African-Americans, this source said. These fighters were organized into groups and dispersed to camps throughout Sudan, not only near Khartoum and Port Sudan, as previous reports have alleged, but in the Damazin area of eastern Sudan and at a base in the southern Equatoria province, near the border with Uganda. (One base, near Hamesh Koreb along the Eritrea border, was over-run in March 1997 by forces of the Sudanese opposition, who claim they captured large stores of Iranian military equipment there.)167 The main military camp of the Afghan Arabs, however, was near Soba, ten kilometers south of Khartoum, along the Blue Nile, the same officer said. The Soba camp, which he claimed he visited frequently between 1994 and 1995, covered twenty acres and was a highly restricted area. Iranians previously based in Lebanons Bekaa Valley were among those involved in training the mujahedin guerrillas at this camp, he said.
According to the same source, the advisory council included representatives from such far-flung armed groups as the Egyptian Islamic Group, the Oromo Islamic Front in Ethiopia, the Eritrean Islamic Jihad (which, as shown above, has laid landmines on civilian roads in western Eritrea), the Islamic forces of Sheikh Abdullah in Uganda, Algerias Islamic Salvation Front, and the Moro Liberation Front from Mindanao, Philippines. At the camps, guerrillas were schooled in the use of explosives, forgery, coding, and other such skills, he said. Weapons for the guerrillas were imported mainly from Iran and China through Port Sudan, and then trucked to Khartoum where the Ministry of Defence turned them over to Bin Ladens representatives, the defector said. Some arms were also routinely relocated to a warehouse in Yemen for forwarding to other operational areas on a ship owned by Bin Laden, he said. Officers who carried out successful operations were rewarded with money and arms, he said.168
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