KHARTOUM: The brown, brick building looming over Khartoum was a potent symbol of the regime of former president Omar al-Bashir. But now it is home to Sudan’s feared paramilitary forces.
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which sprang out of the notorious Janjaweed militia and helped oust the long-time leader in April, have moved in.
Unfinished and flanked by a yellow crane, the high-walled building, once the headquarters of Bashir’s National Congress Party, towers at least nine stories over a city neighbourhood close to Khartoum airport.
Inside members of the RSF can be seen coming and going, and every time the gates to the complex swing open, their heavily-armed vehicles can be spotted inside.
As Bashir’s three-decade rule was toppled on April 11 amid a wave of determined protests, the RSF moved into many of the buildings which had belonged to his party.
The ruling military council which seized power after Bashir’s ouster, set up a committee to control the seizure of the party’s goods and properties.
“The property of the party against which the Sudanese revolted has now fallen into the hands of the force they hate,” said renowned Sudanese journalist Faisal Mohammed Saleh.
It was also paradoxical that “this force, which was set up by Bashir to protect him, aided in his fall and is now occupying the headquarters of his party”.
Led by General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, now the deputy chief of the military council, the RSF is said to include elements of the Janjaweed militia, accused by rights groups of committing war crimes in the Darfur region during Bashir’s rule.
“I have seen with my own eyes the atrocities committed by the Janjaweed militias in Darfur, they killed and displaced the people there,” said Mahmoud, who gave only his first name for reasons of security.
“But the orders were given by the government of Bashir,” said Mahmoud, who hails from Darfur but now resides in Khartoum.
– ‘Tribal militias’ –
Some RSF members including senior officers are also alleged to have brutally broken up a weeks-long sit-in in June outside the army HQ in Khartoum, in which at least 127 protesters died, according to a doctors committee linked to the protest movement.
RSF chief Daglo denies responsibility, saying the accusations are aimed at tainting the image of his force.
But an official inquiry concluded last week that eight security officers, including three from the RSF, were involved and they are set to be charged with crimes against humanity.
Conceived some 10 years ago, Bashir’s party HQ in Khartoum remains a building site, although all work appears to have been stopped for the time being.
A decade ago his party decided that an imposing building was to be constructed in the capital, with a senior official at the time saying it would be funded by China.
Beijing was a key ally of Bashir’s regime and a partner in exploiting the country’s oil riches, until the secession of South Sudan in 2011 saw oil revenues dry up.
By taking over the party’s sites, “the RSF is trying to consolidate its power over the country”, said one businessman, who asked not to be named.
But the force which includes ill-trained tribesmen “is struggling to gain the trust of the Sudanese”, he added.
“The Sudanese see them as tribal militias who are trying to impose their authority by force.”