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Various militia groups, supplied and supported by the government, have served as important adjuncts to the armed forces in the fighting in the south. Beginning in 1983, when the first militias were formed under Nimeiri, the government increasingly relied on the militias to oppose the SPLA. The militias were given arms and ammunition but usually operated independently of the army. No reliable data were available on the size of militia forces, although it has been roughly estimated that 20,000 men participated in militia activities at one time or another.
The Anya Nya II group, formed among southern mutineers from the army (after first splitting off from the rebel movement and obtaining weapons and training from the SPAF), was a major factor in the war between 1984 and 1987. Predominantly from the Nuer, the second largest ethnic group in the south, Anya Nya II fought in rural areas of Aali an Nil on behalf of the government. Anya Nya II emerged as a significant factor in the war in that province, disrupting SPLA operations and interfering with the movement of SPLA recruits to the Ethiopian border area for training. Anya Nya II units were structured with military ranks and were based near various army garrisons. The government assisted the group in establishing a headquarters in Khartoum as part of regime efforts to promote Anya Nya II as an alternative southern political movement in opposition to the SPLA. Eventually, however, SPLA military success led to a decline in morale within Anya Nya II and induced major units, along with their commanders, to defect to the SPLA beginning in late 1987. By mid-1989, only one Anya Nya II faction remained loyal to the government; it continued its close relations with the government after the Bashir coup and retained its political base in Khartoum.
Some of the most devastating raids and acts of banditry against the civilian population were perpetrated by the militias known as murahalin, formed among the Rizeiqat, Rufaa al Huj, Misiriyah, and other groups, all members of the cattleraising Baqqara Arab nomad tribes in Darfur and Kurdufan. These Arab communities traditionally competed for pasture land with the Dinka of northern Bahr al Ghazal and southern Kurdufan. Raiding by the murahalin between 1985 and 1988 precipitated a vast displacement of Dinka civilians from Bahr al Ghazal. Although already armed, the murahalin were given arms and ammunition and some covert training by the SPAF. Some joint counterinsurgency operations also took place in conjunction with government forces. According to Amnesty International, the raids carried out by the murahalin were accompanied by the deliberate killing of tens of thousands of civilians; the abduction of women and children, who were forced into slavery; the looting of cattle and other livestock; and the burning of houses and grain supplies. By late 1988, the growing presence of the SPLA reduced the threat of the murahalin against villages and cattle camps. Moreover, the devastation was so severe that little was left to plunder. Dinka refugees moving north to escape famine were still exposed to militia attacks, however.
The Rizeiqat murahalin were responsible for one of the worst atrocities of the war when, in retaliation for losses suffered in an engagement with the SPLA, more than 1,000 unarmed Dinka were massacred at the rail junction of Ad Duayn, most of them burned to death. The tactics of the Misiriyah murahalin were similar to those of the Rizeiqat; their ambushes of refugees and attacks on villagers in northeastern Bahr al Ghazal were among the most murderous and destructive of any perpetrated by the militia groups. The government armed the Rufaa al Huj as a militia in 1986, after the SPLA appeared in southern Al Awsat Province to recruit followers among the nonArab peoples of the area. In the early months of 1987, combined operations by the SPAF and the Rufaa al Huj militia against nonArab populations in retaliation for the SPLA offensive resulted in many atrocities.
The government also armed as militias a number of southern non-Arab tribes opposed to the SPLA. In 1985 members of the Mundari in Al Istiwai, who were hostile to the Dinka because of their ruthless behavior, were recruited to help counter the growing SPLA threat in that province. Most of the Mundari dissociated themselves from the militia, however, as the presence of the SPLA strengthened in Al Istiwai. In Bahr al Ghazal, the government formed a militia concentrated around Waw, and established a training base for it there. Hostile relations with the Dinka in the area spawned considerable violence, culminating in massacres in August and September 1987 among Dinka who had taken refuge in Waw.
In February 1989, Sadiq al Mahdi proposed that the murahalin militias be institutionalized into popular defense committees. Although the armed forces apparently went ahead with the formation of some such committees, the proposals were strongly opposed by other political groups in Khartoum, who feared that the murahalin would become a factional fighting unit loyal to Sadiq al Mahdi's Umma Party.
In October 1989, the Bashir government promulgated the Popular Defence Act, whose original purpose seemed to be to proceed with the plan of the previous government to give legitimacy to the militias as auxiliaries of the SPAF. The government established a new paramilitary body, the Popular Defence Forces (PDF), to promote the political objectives of the government and the NIF. This action did not, however, result in the disappearance of the existing militias. The PDF was under the command of a brigadier general of the army, and its recruits were armed with AK-47 assault rifles. According to the government, the weapons would be stored in army depots and distributed only when needed.
Both men and women ostensibly were enrolled on a voluntary basis, although some coercion was reported. Military officers and civil servants at all levels were also recruited, particularly those wishing to demonstrate their loyalty to the Islamic activist movement. Membership in the PDF was required for admission to a university and for most significant positions in northern society.
The original period of training was to be for up to three months, and refresher training could last up to fifteen days a year. In June 1990, the government held a graduation for the second PDF training class, numbering 1,287 persons. According to the chief of the PDF, more than ten PDF camps would be located in various parts of the country; each camp would be capable of training three groups of 5,000 a year. The government's target was a PDF personnel of 150,000, but independent observers doubted that this could be achieved with available resources or that the PDF would assume more than a marginal role in maintaining internal security.
Data as of June 1991
Sudan Table of Contents