Meanwhile in Sudan: Fuel riots, a hiring spree of ex-Soviet air mercenaries and preparations for war

The escalating fuel riots in Khartoum, and increasingly in other cities in Sudan, serve as a stark reminder of the inherent fragility and instability of the country.

The riots were sparked by the spiraling prices of all fuel products following the abolition of subsidies and the growing shortages of all fuel products. Moreover, the recurring shortages of fuel have resulted in shortages of food and other products and goods brought into Khartoum from both the Red Sea ports and the countryside.

Within a few days, the riots became the worst since the 1989 riots which led to the military coup which brought Omar Bashir to power.

As the Khartoum riots escalated and turned political, the Sudanese military was sent to the streets to crack down on the riots by force. By Sept. 27, the Sudanese Government acknowledged that more than 50 demonstrators were killed by the security forces; more than 250 were wounded, and more than 600 were arrested.

The military’s violent crackdown in Khartoum sparked even bigger and more violent riots during the weekend throughout Sudan. The protesters are now openly demanding the overthrow of Bashir’s Government while calling Bashir himself “a killer”. Moreover, both the Sudanese Government and Arab diplomats report a growing use of automatic weapons by the rioters starting the evening of Sept. 27. On the morning of the Sept. 28, four security personnel were shot and killed in Khartoum by unidentified gunmen in the ranks of the rioters.

Significantly, the Bashir Government attributed these fuel price hikes and the ensuing shortages to a fiscal crisis made worse by the shortage of hard currency.

However, the oil crisis is unfolding and escalating at a time when Khartoum is spending huge sums of hard currency on advanced weapons, mainly weapon systems optimized for long-range strikes and major wars rather than handling insurgencies such as the never-ending insurgency in Darfur.

In recent months, Khartoum has embarked on an unprecedented military buildup, mainly of its air power. The key weapon systems are being purchased from Belarus. Most important is the acquisition of 12 refurbished Su-24Ms (four to six of them already supplied) and 18 refurbished Su-30MKs (originally leased by India from Russia but returned to Belarus for the legal reason that the Russian Air Force cannot operate them).

The most important undertaking by the Sudanese Air Force in recent months has been the large scale recruitment of mercenaries — aircrews, technical experts and ground crews — from all over the former Soviet Union. Their main mission is to activate, upgrade, and better utilize the existing arsenal of the Sudanese Air Force (which had suffered both combat and technical damage in recent years). The first visible result is the growing number of MiG-29s which are taking off for test and evaluation flights. The efforts of the ex-Soviet mercenaries have already returned four to six additional MiG-29s to flying status.

The revamped Sudanese Air Force has unprecedented long-range reach, covering northern Ethiopia and all of nemesis South Sudan. Indeed, the Sudanese Government is also committing huge resources to the upgrading and expansion of all key military airbases in the southern parts of the country, including the extension of paved runways and the construction of new buildings, bunkers, and other facilities.

Taken together, these efforts point to active preparations for a major land war rather than mere escalation of the fighting against irregular forces in Darfur or elsewhere in Sudan.

Khartoum needs a major diversion of the popular anguish and frustration. Addressing external threats is a proven diversion from internal crises. The calls for the reunification of Sudan under the banner of Islam have been a popular rallying cry for the widespread Islamist and Mahdist constituencies, and thus a sure method for getting their supporters out of the swelling ranks of rioters. Moreover, it is also expedient for the Bashir Administration to blame the oil crisis and shortage of funds on the lingering impact of the transfer of so many oilfields to South Sudan after the mid-2011 break-up of Sudan.

Ultimately, Khartoum is driven by the grim realities of the region, and Bashir’s determination to get involved in crises with assertive offensive strategy. Irrespective of reassuring political rhetoric, Sudan and South Sudan are heading toward a major face off which might easily escalate into violence. Abyei remains a volatile region with tension growing as a result of Sudan’s strenuous suppression of grassroots revolts in surrounding South Kordofan.

Full article: Meanwhile in Sudan: Fuel riots, a hiring spree of ex-Soviet air mercenaries and preparations for war (World Tribune)

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