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IRIN - Sudan





 



The dangerous fiction of Darfur’s peace

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 09:23:33 +0000

In May of this year, Darfuri rebels based in Libya barrelled across the border in some 160 vehicles, breaking through Sudanese defence lines and giving the lie to the widely touted notion that conflict in Sudan’s vast western region was finally over. The Sudanese Armed Forces and their allied militia, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), managed to exact some losses on the Mini Minawi faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-MM). But the rebels, after two years spent mostly in Libya and South Sudan reconsolidating their forces, managed to achieve what the RSF had thwarted in 2015: place a significant number of troops back in Darfur. While the attack may have been only of modest strategic significance in Darfur itself, it was a good time for the SLA-MM to leave Libya. There, Darfuri rebels were growing tired of fighting as mercenaries in a foreign country, one where they might easily find themselves taking on their compatriots enlisted by other parties to Libya’s multifaceted conflict. The chaos of Libya had also given the rebels an opportunity to re-arm sufficiently to attempt another incursion. The timing was also propitious because of major political developments further afield. Sudan’s diplomatic situation has been weakened by the row between two of its main allies: Qatar and Saudi Arabia (who are also at odds in Libya). The attack took place shortly ahead of a scheduled US decision on whether to fully lift, after a six months’ easing, its economic sanctions on Sudan, and just as the hybrid UN/African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) announced a 25 percent reduction of its contingent, amounting to 5,000 personnel. The attack neatly laid bare the fragility of the narrative put forward recently by the US and by elements within the UN – and by Khartoum long before – namely that rebels no longer operate in Darfur and that peace has been restored there. Still, the messages emanating from the UN are mixed. On 10 July, the UN Country Team in Sudan, which includes UN agencies working on development, emergency, recovery, and transition, called for a “positive decision” on sanctions relief, citing a “marked improvement in humanitarian access”. Continuing violence Yet civilians in Darfur still face "violence and criminality", the UN's then head of peacekeeping told the Security Council in January. Hervé Ladsous pointed in particular to the "widespread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of law and justice institutions" as well as inter-communal violence over land, water, and other resources. This violence and tension prevents the return home of some 2.1 million internally displaced people, according to an April overview from the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A growing number of Darfuris consequently are making their way to Europe through risky crossings of the Sahara and the Mediterranean. UNAMID is well aware of this continuing violence and of who is behind it: the RSF, which are no less abusive than the infamous janjawid used to be in 2003-2004. Two years ago, Human Rights Watch accused UNAMID of failing to report the magnitude of RSF's crimes in Darfur. UN Photo/Stuart Price The UN/AU mission in Darfur is set to shrink by a quarter, or 5,000 personnel Given the fiction of improved security, “the only reason” UNAMID is downsizing, according to one UN official, “is that donors have no more appetite for it”. What happens with the 20-year-old US sanctions is less certain. President Barack Obama eased them days before leaving office in January, reviving a long-running debate over Sudan policy between fans of carrots and those of sticks. It’s worth noting that both camps have co-existed within various US administrations: the publicly bipartisan nature of Sudanese issues has long hidden significant divisions, especially under Obama. These divisions, coupled with a lack of experienced personnel at the State Department, may explain why the decision on a permanent lifting of the sanctions was postpone[...]



The "New Way of Working": Bridging aid's funding divide

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 12:21:51 +0000

A new UN-led reform policy aims to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development actors. Heard this tune before? Perhaps. But the so-called New Way of Working (NWOW) has, according to its champions, the potential to radically improve how emergency relief programmes are designed and delivered.   Proponents see it as a way to unlock new sources of funding for humanitarian response from multilateral sources who have previously stayed out of crisis settings, for example the World Bank. It is also being tied to new ways of supporting Syrian refugees and host countries, such as the “compacts” designed for Lebanon and Jordan.   Early pilots are underway or planned in several countries, including Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. But even as the policy is being rolled out, many questions remain. There are concerns a shotgun marriage between emergency and development aid could lead to the blurring of institutional mandates, misplaced priorities, and the violation of humanitarian principles. Others question whether risk-averse donors will be prepared to change how and with whom they fund aid.   What is the New Way of Working?   In his “One Humanity, Shared Responsibility” report, published in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit last year, then-UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon urged the international aid system “to commit to working in a new paradigm”.    Building on the holistic “Leave no-one behind” approach of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ban called for the setting aside of artificial institutional labels such as “development” and “humanitarian”, and urged agencies to “move beyond the comfort of traditional silos, mandates and institutional boundaries.”   The heads of the leading UN agencies responded by signing the “Commitment to Action”, in which they undertook to “implement a new way of working that meets people’s immediate humanitarian needs while at the same time reducing risk and vulnerability”.   Signatories of the Grand Bargain, the landmark agreement to reform emergency aid, likewise committed to “enhanced engagement between humanitarian and development actors”. Izumi Nakamitsu, then head of the Crisis Response Unit at the United Nations Development Programme, told IRIN in an interview in March: “We are trying to have a paradigm shift in looking at the phenomenon of crises, both humanitarian but also protracted crises, which therefore become a development challenge as well.”   “It’s not just about tweaking or changing here and there a little bit, with business as usual. It is going to be a huge change, both for humanitarians and development people and also the donor governments.”   Erm, sounds great, but what is the New Way of Working?   Policy chiefs have been keen to avoid fixed definitions because they say it has to be “context-specific”.   According to Nakamitsu, “there is no one-size-fits-all [approach]… It’s all very contextualised and we are learning as we go,” she said, while stressing an emphasis on field-led initiatives rather than top-down policy directives.   Essentially though, the NWOW is about closer collaboration between humanitarian and development response through the pillars of: “collective outcomes”, “comparative advantage”, and “multi-year timeframes”.   In March, more than 100 delegates from a range of UN agencies, NGOs, donor countries, and multilateral institutions gathered in Copenhagen for a high-level workshop to discuss the policy. They agreed:   -- Instead of just delivering aid to meet need, set collective targets around reducing that need, such as cutting food insecurity rates or cholera infections in a specific geography over a set period of time   -- Decide who is best placed to respond to the crisis, in terms of skills, funding, and capacity, rather than who applies to help out first or who did it last time   -- Secure funding and capacity to support response over a longer timefra[...]



Turkey expels Syrians working for Danish NGO

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 14:52:19 +0000

Turkey has expelled four Syrians working for a Danish aid agency, a new move in a crackdown on international NGOs, IRIN can now report. Their destination: Khartoum, Sudan, 3,000 kilometres away. No aid agency has previously confirmed deportations of Syrian staff from Turkey. The destination of Sudan was chosen to avoid a dangerous return to Syria, the NGO told IRIN.   In a statement, DanChurchAid (DCA) said the staffers’ lives “would have been in imminent danger” had they been deported to Syria. The staff, one woman and three men, had been detained for two months. The DCA operation was shut down by Turkish authorities after failing to get formal registration. It’s one of several NGOs using Turkey as a base for operations in Syria that have also been closed and their staff laid off.   The Danish NGO reported that “the four Syrians were released on the condition that they leave Turkey”. Another five DCA non-Syrian staff had already been expelled to their home countries, while another Syrian was able to travel to Germany on an existing visa.   Lisa Henry, humanitarian director of DCA, told IRIN the Sudan option was not Turkey’s decision. It emerged from a limited range of choices, she said, but added: “anything is better than detention or being sent back to Syria.”   Henry said DCA was fulfilling its duty of care as an employer with the provision of legal representation on behalf of the staff, payment of salaries until the end of June, and offers of counselling if requested. The NGO would be open to re-employing the staff in other countries, Henry said. However, DanChurchAid does not have an office in Sudan. See also: Turkey steps up crackdown on humanitarian aid groups Safe haven?   Sudan may seem an unlikely safe haven. Its own internal conflicts have created some four million displaced people, and the regime is accused of widespread human rights violations and led by President Omar al-Bashir, a man wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.   Nevertheless, according to the Khartoum authorities, by October 2016 at least 100,000 Syrians were living in Sudan. Key to its popularity: Sudan is almost unique in not requiring a visa for Syrian nationals. As previously reported by IRIN, most Syrians in Sudan are not treated as refugees and can generally study and work legally.   Turkey hosts up to three million Syrian refugees, more than any other country. For much of the war, it kept its borders open to Syrians fleeing the conflict. It has provided protection to Syrians, and spent billions of dollars on their support. But it has also expelled some Syrians – according to Amnesty International, at a rate of 100 per day. However, until now, no expulsions of Syrian aid workers had been publicly reported and was rare. An official with US-based Mercy Corps, for example, one of the largest NGOs to be shut down, told IRIN none of its staff had been expelled.   The deportation of these four Syrian aid workers sets  a “dangerous precedent” for other Syrians, according to a humanitarian analyst familiar with the issues. Turkey has expelled non-Syrian aid workers before, but as they could return safely to their home countries, while unfortunate, it wasn't “such a big deal”, the analyst said.   Following the rules   While DCA had made efforts to comply with Turkey’s regulatory regime, the organisation, like others, effectively operated in a “grey space”, the analyst said. Several international NGOs have been caught up in this year’s crackdown, and hundreds of Syrian staff have been laid off.   Berk Baran, deputy permanent representative at the Turkish mission to the UN in Geneva, had earlier blamed the expulsions on NGOs not following the proper procedures. “If the channels are open and you are being told what you have to do, then it is very simple,” Baran said. “A government expects you to abide by its regulations.” DanChurchAid DanChurchAid's programmes [...]



Why there’s no need to panic on UN peacekeeping cuts

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 12:36:28 +0000

Fears are growing that the UN will be forced to drastically cut peacekeeping missions at President Donald Trump’s behest. Fortunately, it's a lot more complicated than that. First, Trump has to get his proposed budget through the US Congress and then, even if he does, where and when to cut the presence of blue helmets around the globe relies on tricky diplomatic manoeuvring and careful navigation of the UN's bureaucratic roadblocks.  The current UN peacekeeping budget, for the year ending 30 June, 2017, is $7.78 billion. The US provides 28.57 percent of this budget, followed by China and Japan at around 10 percent, then Germany, France, and the UK. The budget officially proposed by the Trump administration would significantly reduce financing to the State Department, international aid, and the financing of international organisations, including the UN. The so-called “skinny” budget contains only a few lines that directly reference peacekeeping. Namely, the US “would not contribute more than 25 percent for UN peacekeeping costs”. However, the US Congress already caps American’s peacekeeping assessment level at 25 percent. To meet its marginally higher existing obligations, that cap must be waived every year. “Trump is not creating this – it exists already,” pointed out Paul D. Williams, associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University. Recent reports suggest that the Trump administration wants to cut far deeper than the 25 percent ceiling, ripping as much as 40 percent from the $2.2 billion annual US contribution. A decrease from 28.57 percent to under 25 percent amounts to around $280 million. Incidentally, this is almost precisely the figure a 2014/15 UN Board of Auditors’ report identified as the total amount funded but not being spent by missions. A 40 percent cut would take roughly $1 billion from the UN's peacekeeping budget and reduce the US share, at existing levels, to more like 17-18 percent. The UN has often faced threats from American politicians, but this time the White House has telegraphed a clear intent to follow through on its promises: “We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to various foreign aid programmes,” said Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director. “We should look at all 16 of them,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said at her confirmation hearing, referring to the number of blue-helmet missions around the world (14 are funded through the assessed peacekeeping budget). Haley will chair a 6 April meeting at the UN Security Council about the future of those peacekeeping missions. A letter she sent to Council members asks: "are current missions still 'fit for purpose?'" "Council members are encouraged to review missions and identify areas where mandates no longer match political realities and propose alternatives or paths towards restructuring to bring missions more in line with achievable outcomes," wrote the US mission. The letter, obtained by IRIN, asks many of the same questions already being posed by Council members – what to do "where there is no political process to support"; how to guard against mission creep; or whether it is "advisable, or even possible, to operate a mision without the strategic consent of the host government". Even if a far larger proposed cut does emerge when Trump’s more detailed budget is released in May, the reality is that it is Congress that ultimately decides the budget, not the White House. Many Republicans already balked at the proposed cuts, especially at the State Department, and the president is already locked in a major congressional battle over healthcare reform. "I do not anticipate that Congress will approve the UN-related provisions in the president’s budget without major revisions,” Peter Yeo of the UN Foundation told IRIN. "There are many congressional champions who appreciate peacekeeping, and want to ensure full-funding." Experts reserve their deepest concern for[...]



Sudan and chemical weapons – a serial offender?

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 14:42:57 +0000

An Amnesty International investigation that has put the spotlight on the Sudan government’s possible use of chemical weapons against civilians in the western region of Darfur, may not be the only instance of the security forces allegedly launching chemical attacks.   Witnesses in South Kordofan, another region resisting government control, also report seeing civilians with symptoms suggesting chemical weapons’ exposure, from as recently as April.   The Amnesty report, released in late September, claimed government aircraft conducted at least 30 chemical attacks in the remote Jebel Marra region of Darfur this year. Based on testimony from caregivers and survivors, it said that as many as 250 people may have been killed.   Two separate, independent chemical weapons experts concluded that the injuries and reported symptoms suggested a chemical attack from blister agents such as sulfur mustard, lewisite or nitrogen mustard gases.   Symptoms reported by 56 witnesses included bloody vomiting and diarrhoea; skin blisters and rashes which hardened; as well as eye and respiratory problems.   The government has denied the allegations.   Not just Darfur   Further south, in the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan, aid workers and local officials have also reported suspected chemical weapons use by the government. If accurate, the reports suggest a more deliberate and wide-ranging campaign by Khartoum against its restive regions.   Without soil samples, it’s impossible to verify the allegations, but medical officials told IRIN they have seen symptoms consistent with chemical weapons exposure stretching back over at least four years of conflict.   Tom Catena, the only surgeon at the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel, said the first incident he observed of a possible chemical attack was in April 2012, during fighting in Talodi town.   Eighteen victims of a government air raid were taken to the hospital, where they reported seeing grey smoke from the bombing turning white.   “The people who were exposed to the smoke said they became paralyzed, had blurred vision, vomiting and some with diarrhoea,” the renowned surgeon said. “Several said they couldn’t move their bodies for several hours, but eventually regained full function.”   Peter Mosynski/IRIN Nuba children shelter in a foxhole at the sound of an approaching bomber   The symptoms could be the result of exposure to organophosphates such as insecticides and herbicides, or nerve agents, he said.   The second incident took place around late March to early April this year in the embattled town of Al Azraq, where Catena said similar symptoms were identified.   Ali Abdelrahman, director of the Nuba Mountains Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organization (NRRDO) – a community-based support group – said his NGO has also come across cases of suspected chemical attacks on civilians in the Nuba Mountains. “But the problem is, we do not have the technical devices required to confirm these cases,” he said.   The medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières reported the suspected use of chemical weapons as far back as 1999 in air attacks on Equatoria province, in what is now South Sudan.   Evidence problem   Repeated calls by IRIN to the Sudan Armed Forces for comment went unanswered. But a foreign ministry official, Abdel-Ghani Al-Na’im, had earlier dismissed the Amnesty report as “mere tendentious claims”.   Reaching a firm conclusion on the government’s alleged use of chemical weapons remains difficult. Sudan has effectively blocked access by international organisations and the media to the conflict areas in both Darfur and the Nuba Mountains.   Amnesty International said it was unable to collect soil and blood samples, and instead had to rely on interviews, satellite imagery and analysis of photographs of injuries.   The hybrid UN and African Union pe[...]



Top Picks: What Syrians want, Africa's declining conflicts, and refugee deterrence policies

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:18:25 +0000

Welcome to IRIN's weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.   Six to read: What Syrians want Public opinion polling in Syria, a country where the president regularly takes upwards of 90 percent of the vote, has never been easy. And, after five years of war, it’s the loudest voices we often pay attention to. A survey of 2,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, summarised in Foreign Affairs by Columbia University's Daniel Corstange, offers a rare scientific alternative, certainly as a sample of the approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. A few key takeaways: just over half the refugees support the opposition, but a substantial portion (40 percent) backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Opposition supporters who back Islamist factions are barely more religious than those who prefer nationalist rebels.  As has been long thought, opposition supporters are found to be poorer and more poorly educated than those who side with the regime, but there is not an overwhelming demand for a religious state. Finally, those who back nationalist opposition groups are 50 percent more politically engaged than their peers who back al-Assad. There's a lot of useful information packed into this short piece, so best to check out the numbers for yourself.   Get in while you can You read it first here of course, but in this blog LSE alumnus Charles Mulingi explores the migratory flow of Ethiopians along the southern route to South Africa and finds it’s a far higher number than those attempting the journey to Europe. The majority of those who choose the southern route (and not the westward alternative through Sudan and Libya to Europe) do so due to cost, convenience, safety, and the presence of relatives and friends in transit countries and South Africa. But proposed new measures contained in South Africa’s Green Paper on International Migration will make life much harder for migrants and asylum seekers. They include a “safe third country” principle that will deny asylum to those who have transited through one or more countries considered to be “safe”. The proposed measures also seek to introduce asylum processing centers near the borders where all migrants will stay pending the determination of their claims. During this period, migrants will be denied automatic right to work or study. South Africa seems to be modelling its response on the European model. It’s likely to be a domestic vote-winner for the government.   The ‘ripple effect’ of refugee deterrence policies When Australia began pursuing its policy of deterring refugees from reaching its shores by turning back boats and transferring asylum seekers to offshore processing centres, it weathered criticism from the international community but no real sanctions. Instead, some European countries began viewing ‘the Australian model’ as something perhaps to be emulated, particularly in the context of the unprecedented movement of asylum seekers to the EU in 2015. Over the last year, we’ve seen more and more EU member states taking measures to deter asylum seekers. We’ve also seen the extent that both Australia and the EU are willing to pay origin and transit countries to make sure asylum seekers don’t reach their borders. This new working paper and policy brief from the Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Policy Group warns that when rich countries implement deterrence policies, they create ‘ripple effects’ in lower-income countries. Using Indonesia, Kenya, and Jordan as case studies, the authors find evidence of increasing restrictions for refugees in numerous lower- and middle-income countries. While such policies are often the result of domestic pressures, the interviews also make clear the extent that developed countries set an ‘example’ to the rest of the world. The result: “a clear trend in the eros[...]



Should the UN surrender over peacekeeping?

Mon, 22 Aug 2016 16:46:31 +0000

The bitter criticism heaped on UN peacekeepers in South Sudan this month over their failure to act to protect civilians and humanitarian workers is sadly nothing new. But it is now raising an urgent question: is the UN’s peacekeeping system fit for purpose?   In early 2014, shortly after the outbreak of South Sudan’s brutal civil war, officials at the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations were feeling the pressure over their ability to protect more than 60,000 South Sudanese displaced by the violence that were sheltering in UN camps. It was, then, an unprecedented number.   “We cannot protect those people from being overrun while at the same time doing patrolling in an area the size of France,” Kieran Dwyer, the spokesperson for DPKO said at the time. It wasn’t the job of peacekeepers, he continued, “to stand in the way of the anti-government forces fighting the pro-government forces.”   Dwyer was speaking shortly after the Security Council had authorised the enlargement of the mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, from 7,000 to 12,500 troops. Even with 5,500 new blue helmets on the way, he was clear about how limited their role could be. Despite possessing a Chapter VII mandate, authorising the use of deadly force, DPKO said its soldiers were ill-equipped to save lives in the midst of a civil war.   “The primary responsibility to protect civilians is with the government, and our job is to support the government,” said Dwyer.   This month, following fighting in the capital Juba that left hundreds dead and countless victims of sexual violence, the UN Security Council voted once more to enlarge UNMISS. On 12 August, diplomats approved a 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force, mandated to facilitate movement in Juba, protect its airport, and engage with “any actor” believed to be preparing or undertaking attacks on the UN, international actors, and civilians.   Its deployment – the terms of which, as well as the troops’ exact makeup, when they will arrive, or even where they will be housed, remains very much up in the air – is meant to give the UN a force that can intervene in ways the 13,000 peacekeepers already on the ground have been unwilling or unable to.   The Security Council’s decision to deploy the protection force comes largely in response to violence waged by the government that UNMISS was originally meant to cooperate with – underscoring just how delicate and potentially explosive its presence could be.   It also speaks to the changing environment that UN peacekeepers find themselves in: from Mali, where peacekeepers battle Islamist insurgents; to the eastern Congo, where they track down rebels in collaboration with government forces that have a gruesome record of human rights abuse; to Darfur, where they’ve remained bogged down for years, and faced accusations of covering up crimes committed by the government, including some carried out against peacekeepers.   Outdated model?   What happens in South Sudan could offer a window into what role UN peacekeepers can play in the future: whether they can really protect civilians in the midst of war; or if the UN is too slow, too risk-averse, and whether it should instead outsource peace enforcement to regional organisations working under UN authorisation. Eric Kanalstein/UNMISS Sheltering from the fighting in Juba   The fighting that broke out on 8 July between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar left a peace agreement in tatters. It had briefly ended two years of conflict between the armies of both men that had left over 100,000 people dead, offering a new government of national unity in which Machar was sworn in as vice president. He is now in exile, and what happens next is far from clear.   What the violence underscored was the limitations of the c[...]



Food on the frontlines

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 11:17:49 +0000

The people of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan State are accustomed to hardship. Receiving little outside aid, they have managed to farm and survive despite the challenges of a protracted civil war with the Sudanese government. But that could be about to change. Local residents say poor harvests and the Sudanese government’s targeting of key farming areas will mean severe hunger later this year and potential starvation next. For more than five years, the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) and the Sudanese army and associated militia have fought each other to a standstill in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Neither side has attained a significant military advantage and both have been accused of abuses against civilians, although President Omar al-Bashir's forces are charged with the lion's share. In a June interview with state-run Radio Omdurman, the governor of South Kordofan State (who is loyal to President Omar al-Bashir), Major General Issa Adam Abakar, disputed the notion of a military deadlock and said the Sudanese army was closing in on victory. The fighting in South Kordofan generally takes place from November to June, before the region’s rainy season muddies all access points to the rebel strongholds in the Nuba Mountains, making many roads impassable. This year marked one of the government’s largest campaigns yet. Al-Bashir's Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) attacked the Nuba Mountains in late March with seven offensives. The SPLA-N repelled all of these attacks except in two areas – but the damage to farmlands and markets has brought dire consequences for civilians. See: Forgotten Conflicts: South Kordofan War of attrition Attacks by al-Bashir’s forces and his warplanes have routinely killed civilians for years. What has changed now is that they are accused of waging a systematic war of attrition designed to squeeze civilians out of rebel-held areas by destroying farmland and markets, and blocking planting by civilians during the rainy season. “This year, the Sudan government has used a new tactic of war – explicitly targeting food supplies,” said Osman Tola, executive director of the rebel agriculture ministry. “President Omar al-Bashir has tried through land offensives that have so far failed, so he is [now] trying to get people to move to [government] areas of control.” According to the head of one aid organisation (who wished to remain anonymous), one of only a handful operating in the Nuba Mountains, Sudanese forces spent an entire week in late March-early April destroying all the farmland and water points in an area called Karkaria, which acts as a fertile greenbelt and water-flow area for the region. “It’s done purposely,” said Ali Abdelrahman, director of the Nuba Mountains Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organisation (NRRDO), a community-based support group. “To set fire to people’s homes, to drive away livestock – purposely to get them hungry. Once you get into that situation, you [either] die or join government-controlled territories whereby youth are recruited against their own people.” Repeated calls to a Sudanese army spokesman for comment on the questionable tactics being used in its campaign went unanswered. On 18 June, al-Bashir declared a four-month unilateral ceasefire between the government and rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states; a largely moot gesture since the ceasefire aligns with the rainy season, when fighting naturally subsides. The declaration came too late in the planting season for staple crops, leaving a devastating food gap for next year. Normally, government troops retreat before the rainy season begins in earnest, fearing their supply lines and exit points will be cut off. But this year, their forces appear set to remain in key positions, displacing the residents indefinitely and preventing plan[...]