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Border Guard Forces / Haras-al-Hodud

The Haras-al-Hodud (“Border Guard”) is a government paramilitary body initially designed to patrol Sudan’s frontiers. The Border Guards were created in 2003, when the Government tried to provide a formal status to proxy Darfurian Arab tribal militias. The region's disgruntled Arab tribes are loyal to Khartoum as long as they are paid and payment is often spotty. And even though many of these Darfuri Arab leaders are unlettered and illiterate, they understand power politics all too well.

Although ill-disciplined, they tend to be more trustworthy than the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), at least as long as they are paid. By 2014, Khartoum had deployed 30,000 army troops and 20,000 Haras-al-Hodud to Darfur. But there was no telling how many of those troops are still fighting in their official role rather than according to their tribal affiliations. At the height of the conflict in Darfur, Hilal was the most famous Janjawid leader, reportedly with authority over 8,000 men, many of them nominally members of the Haras-al-Hodud.

Its members are principally Darfurian Arabs from the Mahamid branch of the Rezeigat tribe (the notorious warlord Musa Hilal’s branch). In 2012, President Idriss Deby of Chad married the daughter of Musa Hilal, a leader of the Janjaweed militia who's also wanted by ICC on the same charge sheet as al-Bashir. Musa Hilal is himself a Mahamid, though the community is reportedly split with one part of the tribe supporting him, and the other against.

Infamous janjaweed leader Musa Hilal was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council under resolution 1672, While their administrative status is not entirely clear, the Border Guards reportedly respond, at least on paper, to Military Intelligence. The Border Guards militia had around 3,000 men based in an enclave in North Darfur.

Musa Hilal was involved in the founding of the notorious Janjaweed, a loose group of armed militias which have fought since 2003 alongside the Sudanese government in its brutal war in Darfur. He is also the sheikh (tribal leader) of the Mahamid clan of the Rizeigat Arab tribe of northern Darfur. Hilal was recruited by Bashir's regime to organise and lead the Janjaweed to fight against the Darfuri armed groups of the black African tribes of Darfur. Land, money and power were the incentives that Bashir offered the commander and his militiamen to fight on his side. Throughout the 14 years of conflict, Hilal was insisting that he was defending his people and the country against the armed movements.

The Rezeigat Arab militias in North Darfur funded themselves through illegal levies on artisanal gold mining activities, kidnapping for ransom, armed robberies, cattle rustling and facilitating the smuggling of drugs and migrants across Darfur borders. In 2016, a confidential UN report surfaced in the media revealing that Hilal was making $54m a year exploiting unregulated gold mines in Jebel Amer in North Darfur. The Sudanese army had effectively given away the area to his forces by withdrawing in 2013 to avoid clashes.

In 2008 the appointment of Arab militia leader Musa Hilal as an Advisor to the Minister of Federal Rule was intended in part to prevent the unification of Arab and African Darfurian tribes against Khartoum. During several periods in its history Darfur has been unified in its rejection of the leadership in Khartoum, both under the Mahdi and later under the last Fur Sultan Ali Dinar, as well as during the British-Egyptian Condominium. The Arabs in Darfur could quickly become a "dangerous factor" that could switch sides and that Musa Hilal in many ways has become an "iconic figure" seen to represent Arab interests in Darfur. Some Arab tribes may rebel against Khartoum if Khartoum overlooked leaders such as Hilal. Bashir and his top advisors no doubt wanted to keep militia leaders such as Hilal as close as possible, especially if they may be indicted by the International Criminal Court, to prevent them from testifying against more senior officials in the regime.

Hilal spent several years in Khartoum as a senior government advisor until disputes with the regime prompted his return to Darfur in 2014. Furthering his personal and tribal agenda, Hilal began to transform the BGF into the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC). Composed largely of members of Hilal’s Mahamid clan, SRAC began to drive government forces from northwest Darfur and established administrations in the region’s major centers and at the artisanal gold fields in Jabal Amer. A major quarrel broke out between Hilal and what he described as “these Nile Valley Arabs,” the Ja’ailin, Danagla and Sha’iqiya tribes that have controlled Sudan since independence.

Musa Hilal, the de facto commander of the Border Guards, refused the integration of the Border Guards into RSF. Hilal feels that the Government, by incorporating his Border Guards into RSF and placing them under the leadership of his rival, Mohammed Hamdan Dagolo “Hemmeti”, was trying to clip his wings because he had become autonomous and critical of Khartoum. The disagreement on the status of the Border Guards was also fuelled by personal rivalries between Musa Hilal, on one side, and Vice-President Hassabo and “Hemmeti” (both Mahariya and close associates), on the other, over access to the central Government and leadership of the Darfurian Arab community. These rivalries were also related to issues of tribal status and egos. As a tribal leader from an influential family, Hilal considered that he should be recognized by the Government as a more important figure than “Hemmeti” and Hassabo, who are not endowed with any traditional leadership position.

The Government of Sudan also accused Hilal of cooperating with General Khalifa Haftar in Libya. While the Panel has so far not established this cooperation with certainty, several prominent sources in the Darfurian Arab community reported to the Panel that since his current standoff with the Government of the Sudan began, Hilal has tried to develop connections in Libya in order to get support.

In a political move aimed at creating an impression of Government control and defusing tensions in Darfur, Khartoum announced a campaign in August 2017 under Presidential Decree No. 419 (2017) to collect weapons and legitimize the ownership of smuggled vehicles in the States of Darfur and Kordofan. Before the campaign began, the Vice-President, Hassabo Mohamed Abdelrahman, and the tribal militia leader and commander of the Border Guard Forces, Abdullah Musa Hilal traded barbs indicating strained relations between Khartoum and the militias. Subsequently, Hilal refused to collect his militia’s weapons or to integrate his forces into the Rapid Support Forces led by Muhammad Hamdan Dalgo (“Hemeidti”).

Following the public refusal of Musa Hilal to integrate his border guard units with RSF in August, clashes took place on the Sudan-Egypt-Libya border between RSF and the border guards. In late September 2017, RSF killed 17 of Hilal’s men returning from Libya, whom the Government of the Sudan characterized as “human traffickers”. Several North Darfur Arab sources contradicted this version of events, indicating that Hilal’s men were in fact returning from a mission in Libya aimed at establishing links with Libya-based actors to prepare for a potential confrontation with the Government of the Sudan. According to these sources, RSF held the 17 men in the desert for two days and then executed them after failed negotiations for their release, reportedly in a bid to sever Hilal’s connections with Libya.

In the second stage of the weapons collection campaign, Rapid Support Forces militia and military equipment were scaled up on the ground in Darfur. On 26 October 2017, the RSF moved to the town of Kabkabiya in North Darfur where they rounded up and burned motorcycles which belonged to people believed to be loyal to Musa Hilal’s Border Guard Forces alleging that they were being used to disrupt peace.

On 26 November, RSF units were reportedly ambushed by Musa Hilal border guards while transporting some criminal elements from Saraf Omra to Kabkabiyah, North Darfur. In response to the ensuing fighting, which resulted in the killing of 14 RSF, including one of their senior commanders, and nine militia, RSF arrested Musa Hilal, his three sons and members of his militia in his stronghold of Misteriya (30 km south-west of Kabkabiyah) and transported them to Khartoum. Given Hilal’s profile as tribal leader of the Mahamid clan of the Northern Rizeigat, head of the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening Council (SRAC) and former Janjaweed leader, the event sent a strong message to other militia groups in Darfur.

Hilal escalated his war of words against some of the government's officials, accusing them of corruption, conspiracy and betrayal. He has mainly attacked Vice President Abdel Rahman and General Hemeti. In a widely circulated video, Hilal accused the two men of stealing millions of dollars that Saudi Arabia and the UAE offered the Sudanese government for its participation in the war in Yemen.

Hilal opposed the deployment of the RSF militia in Yemen and has been openly calling on his fellow tribesmen not to go and fight there. Most importantly, Hilal crossed the regime's redlines by establishing contact with the Libyan General Khalifa Haftar. The Sudanese government considers Haftar an enemy and has accused him of supporting armed groups to destabilise Darfur. For his part, General Haftar has repeatedly accused the Sudanese government of supporting his opponents in Libya.

Hilal was arrested on November 26, 2017 by the government’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF – al-Quwat al-Da’m al-Sari) after spending the last few years building a fiefdom in northern Darfur funded by illegal gold mining. Also arrested in the RSF raid were Hilal’s sons Habib, Fathi and Abd al-Basit, three brothers and a number of aides.

The Arab militia leader Musa Hilal was frequently cited as one of the main suppliers of weapons from Sudan to the CAR rebels. The Union for Peace in CAR (UPC) and Popular Front for the Renaissance of CAR (FPRC) are two renamed groups from the Seleka rebel alliance that held power in Bangui from March 2013 to January 2014. The members of the Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic reported 14 December 2018 that Ex-Séléka factions, in particular FPRC and UPC, continued to acquire military equipment from Sudanese territory to complement their stocks.

Musa Hilal, the notorious Darfurian Arab militia leader who refused to comply with the voluntary disarmament, is frequently cited, including by ex-Séléka leaders, as one of the principal suppliers of weapons from the Sudan. Even though he had been under arrest since November 2017, according to well-informed sources, Hilal and his entourage can still be contacted, as UPC and FPRC had reportedly done.

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Page last modified: 15-04-2019 18:54:26 ZULU