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Tensions rise between Sudan army, United Arab Emirates

Tensions rise between Sudan army, United Arab Emirates
This handout picture provided by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on November 11, 2023,   -  
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Diplomats expelled, accusations of a "mafia state"... The Sudanese army under General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane is on fire with the United Arab Emirates, accused of supporting his rival in the war, General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo.

It all began with incendiary statements by General Yasser Atta, the army's number two, accusing Abu Dhabi of being "a mafia state" that had "taken the path of evil" by supporting General Daglo's dreaded Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitaries in Sudan.

In a fiery harangue to his troops on 28 November, he accused the Emirates of having sent arms to the RSF via Uganda and the Central African Republic since the start of the war on 15 April "with the help of Wagner", the Russian mercenary group that once had a strong presence in Bangui.

"With the weakening of Wagner, their planes passed through Chad. For the past week, they have even been landing at N'Djamena airport", he added, pointing the finger at Marshal Haftar, the strongman of eastern Libya.

Experts have been talking about this circuit since the start of the war.

When contacted by AFP, the Emirati authorities did not respond.

- Cautious and diplomatic" -

In August, the US Wall Street Journal quoted Ugandan officials as claiming to have found weapons in a cargo plane that was supposed to be carrying Emirati humanitarian aid to Sudanese refugees in Chad.

But, notes Jalel Harchaoui, associate researcher at the British Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), "until recently, General Burhane's camp was cautious and diplomatic, avoiding any direct verbal confrontation with key players such as Haftar, Russia or Abu Dhabi".

General Atta's statements have shattered this reservation.

Researcher Alex de Waal claims that Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyane, the President of the United Arab Emirates, supported General Daglo, in particular because he had "supplied him with paramilitaries for the Saudi-Emirati war in Yemen".

In addition, he adds, "Daglo benefits from the gold trade, which also benefits the Emirates". And, according to Washington, this has helped to finance part of Wagner's operations.

For expert Andreas Krieg, "the history of the Emirates in Sudan is a history of networks, woven by Abu Dhabi to achieve strategic objectives with discretion and the possibility of denial".

This is why, Mr Harchaoui told AFP, the rare accusations that have emerged about the Emirates' involvement in Sudan have so far been "lukewarm", despite "significant support from eastern Libya, Russia and the Emirates" for the RSF.

In August, the United Arab Emirates firmly denied the Wall Street Journal's reports.

- An impasse" -

But again in November, Sudanese demonstrators lambasted the United Arab Emirates. Shortly afterwards, according to the foreign minister appointed in Sudan in the wake of the October 2021 putsch, Ali Seddig, who is loyal to the army, Abu Dhabi expelled Sudanese diplomats.

"We did not ask the Emirates for explanations even though we had information about their involvement in the war," he told state television. "But it was they who started by expelling our diplomats, so we had to respond".

On Sunday, Sudanese foreign affairs declared 15 Emirati diplomats persona non grata, giving their embassy "48 hours" for them to "leave the country"."It was because we were at an impasse with the Emirates that these declarations were made", explained Mr Seddig.

For Mr Harchaoui, it was a "desperate gesture" by a force "whose options are dwindling", particularly on the military front, in the face of the RSF, which has Khartoum on the ground, as well as almost the whole of Darfur and more and more parts of the south of the country.

"With this bold move, the army camp is "surely hoping to attract attention and condemnation for the illegal supply of arms to the SDF by the Emirates", explains Mr Harchaoui.

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