Darfur: Government forces involved in gold mine attacks
Reports that members of Sudan's security forces were involved in January attacks that left up to 200 people dead near a goldmine in Darfur must urgently be investigated, Amnesty International said today.Fighting broke out on 5 January between members of Beni Hussein, an Arab tribe that lives locally and the pastoralist Rizeigat community, when a Rizeigat leader, who is also an officer in Sudan’s Border Guard, reportedly laid claim to a gold-rich area in Beni Hussein territory. Gunmen driving government vehicles are alleged to have opened fire on people in the the mostly Beni Hussein area of Kebkabiya using grenades and heavy machine guns. While many among the local population own automatic rifles, heavier weaponry of the sort used in these attacks is not normally available to civilians. "The Sudanese government should immediately investigate the reports that its security officers are involved in attacks against civilians and ensure they are not involved in any further attacks," said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International's Africa director.Residents of Kebkabiya identified individual officers of the Border Intelligence Brigade (BIB, known as 'Border Guards') as being among the instigators of the violence. The Border Guards are part of Sudan's Military Intelligence.Other villages were also attacked by Rizeigat tribesmen and Border Guards. One witness told Amnesty International that 53 residents of his village in Martam Bay were killed in the early hours of 9 January. He said the attack was carried out by a group of gunmen in eight vehicles which included Border Guard officers whom he identified by name. These events come as the government is attempting to exert greater control over licensing and export of gold, in a context of fiscal crisis, depleted foreign exchange reserves, and widespread gold smuggling.Members of the Beni Hussein community have controlled the awarding of artisanal mining licenses in the area since the discovery of gold in March 2012.Despite the signing of a government–brokered truce between the two communities on 17 January, attacks are reported to continue and tensions in the areas remain high. There were reports of attacks on people and destruction of property by Border Guard militiamen against the Beni Hussein villages of Um-Girio, Midasheech, Dileeba, Mora, and Um-Dirasaya on 22 and 23 January. Throughout January, militiamen blocked roads into the region, which created shortages of essential food items and reportedly caused the deaths of vulnerable children and elderly people.“The allegations of Border Guards committing unlawful killings and other violations in relation to control over gold resources are extremely serious, and with tensions still simmering there is a real risk of further fighting,” said Gaughran. The Central Bank of Sudan on 12 December banned the export of crude gold ore ahead of the establishment of a stock exchange for precious metals.Minister of Mining Kamal Abdullatif travelled to the Kebkabiya area in late December 2012. On that occasion, Sudan Vision, a government-controlled website, indicated that the “North Darfur cabinet ... held a meeting in the presence of the security committee to devise a meticulous plan to guarantee that all the gold produced will be directed to the Central Bank of Sudan."