Sudan is investigating allegations that an Emirati company illegally transferred Sudanese men it had hired as guards for Libyan oil facilities. The men were originally appointed to security positions in the UAE on contracts that made no mention of work in Libya. A Sudanese blog, named Wakeep posted photos of the contracts, which appear to confirm the claims. 

The Sudanese government made the decision to investigate the case after friends and families of the alleged victims protested outside government buildings, including the UAE embassy, in the capital of Khartoum. The Foreign Ministry of Sudan is working with Emirati authorities to investigate the situation, although Abu Dhabi has yet to make a public statement on the matter.

According to the protesters, their relatives had traveled to the UAE to work as guards for a security service company named Black Shield, after which they were transferred to the Ras Lanuf oil terminal in Libya. Ras Lanuf is significant because it falls within the area that has been blockaded since mid-January by rebels loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar. As a result of the blockade, which is part of a wider siege of Libya’s capital – Tripoli, Libyan oil production has plummeted by almost a million barrels per day.

There is concern that the Sudanese security workers were transferred to Libya in order to serve as mercenaries for General Haftar. The UAE is the most prominent regional supporter of Haftar’s forces. 

There is concern that the Sudanese security workers were transferred to Libya in order to serve as mercenaries for General Haftar. The UAE is the most prominent regional supporter of Haftar’s forces, which are also supported by the governments of France, Russia, Egypt, and others. The UAE is also intimately involved in Sudan’s internal conflicts and played a prominent role in the removal of former Sudanese President Omar-al-Bashir. In turn, Sudan has sent troops to fight alongside the UAE as part of the Saudi-led coalition that is currently waging war in Yemen. 

Some of the protesters in Khartoum carried banners that read “No to mercenary activities” and “No to deception.”

“My brother told me that he was trained in the UAE to handle heavy weapons, and he was given the option to either go to Yemen or Libya after they offered him a large sum of money,” Sudanese protester, Abdullah Al Tayeb, told Inside Arabia. He claimed that his brother, along with other young men, were transferred to a military training camp, awaiting removal to one of the two theaters of war. Following the protests, it is reported that the group – including Al Tayeb’s brother – were returned to the UAE.

Despite the fact that there may have been something of a happy ending for this group of men, there are fears that their situation represents but the tip of the iceberg. It is alleged that the incident may be part of a wider undercover policy of the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s regimes to recruit Sudanese men as mercenaries to fight for their proxies not only in Libya, but also in Yemen—where the two gulf powers are engaged in a bitter war against the Houthi rebels. 

The incident may be part of a wider undercover policy of the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s regimes to recruit Sudanese men as mercenaries to fight for their proxies not only in Libya, but also in Yemen.

Sudanese fighters have been employed on many sides during the chaos that has consumed Libya since 2011. Myriad jihadi groups and militias compete for strategic positions and resources across Libya’s vast territory, with no end in sight to the cycle of violence. The two principal warring parties – the Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli and the Interim Government, based in Eastern Libya – have both made ample use of Sudanese fighters and guards, many of whom entered Libya fleeing conflict in Sudan. 

Meanwhile, the war in Yemen has produced near-unimaginable horrors, including a famine that the UN has described as the “worst humanitarian crisis on earth.” Lacking sufficient troops to achieve many of their military objectives in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE looked elsewhere for fighters. A large proportion of those they have conscripted come from Sudan. Many were sent by former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2015, in a desperate attempt to curry favor with the Gulf dictatorships and hold on to domestic power. 

Many of the men sent to Yemen by Bashir were former members of the Janjaweed (or Rapid Support Forces), militias that Bashir used during his ground-war in Darfur, in which over 300,000 people were killed and 1.2 million were displaced. 

Several members of Janjaweed forces are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the UN, including indiscriminate killings and using mass-rape as a weapon of war. The leader of Janjaweed, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, led at least 30,000 Sudanese soldiers in Yemen, on the side of the Saudi-led coalition. Today, Dangolo is considered to be Sudan’s de-facto ruler, having served as vice-president of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council since Bashir’s ousting on April 11, 2019.

After taking power, Dagolo’s first act of foreign policy was to make an official visit to Saudi Arabia to declare his support for the Saudi-Emirati coalition fighting in Yemen. The visit took place around the time that the Saudi Regime pledged a further $3 billion in military spending on the conflict. 

“Sudan stands with the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] against all threats and attacks from Iran and Houthi militias,” said Dagolo during the visit. This statement appeared to be at odds with the words of Sudan’s internationally recognized Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, who said on a visit to the US that his government plans to reduce the number of Sudanese troops in Yemen, from 15,000 down to 5,000.

While it remains unclear who holds the balance of power in Sudan, it’s evident that the public is deeply unhappy with a situation where citizens can be enlisted, without their knowledge, to fight as mercenaries in Yemen and Libya.

While it remains unclear who holds the balance of power in Sudan, it’s evident that the public is deeply unhappy with a situation where citizens can be enlisted, without their knowledge, to fight as mercenaries in Yemen and Libya at the behest of powerful Gulf states – namely the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 

Those who attended the protests in Khartoum showed that, by shining a light on this exploitation, positive change can be made – and hopefully that light continues to be effective. 

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