Yemen in Focus: Could a new Sudan withdraw from the Saudi-led coalition?

Yemen in Focus: Could a new Sudan withdraw from the Saudi-led coalition?
This week we look at signs of Sudan's potential withdrawal from the conflict, calls for negotiations in the south and global pressure on the Saudi-led coalition.
8 min read
13 September, 2019
Thousands of Sudanese fought in Yemen [Getty]

Sudanese opposition figures have called on their country's transitional government to bring back Sudanese soldiers fighting for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, including child soldiers and mercenaries, according to a report on Tuesday.

Spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, El Rashid Saeed urged the country's new government to work towards ending the war in Yemen and bring Sudanese troops back home.

"We do not want the war to continue in Yemen," said Saeed in a press conference. "We want the talks to go on according to the plan prepared by the United Nations.

"I think Sudan can play a role in this regard through giving an ultimatum to its allies in the Arab coalition, for the sake of the peaceful solution that will guarantee the withdrawal of our forces without harming the relations with other countries."

At any time in the past four and a half years, as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen were fighting in Yemen with local militia aligned with the Saudis, according to an Al Jazeera report. Many of these, the report adds, were children and mercenaries.

There are "between 8,000 and 14,000 Sudanese paramilitary forces are fighting in Yemen", Noha Aboueldahab, from Brookings Doha Centre, told Al Jazeera.

"Sudanese mercenaries, many of them children from Darfur, have been lured into fighting on the ground in Yemen in exchange for financial compensation." 

The decision to join the Saudi-led war against Houthis in Yemen was made by former dictator Omar al-Bashir, whose current trial revealed he received millions in illicit cash funds from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Bashir was ousted by the military in April following mass demonstrations demanding an end to his decades-old rule.

While he sent thousands of Sudanese troops to fight in Yemen, recent reports revealed that the Saudis also recruited thousands more mercenaries as well as child soldiers. 

Al Jazeera’s Tuesday report includes collected evidence on Saudi Arabia's trafficking of child soldiers to Yemen.

"I have never used a weapon… not a gun or a rifle," a child soldier told the broadcaster in an interview.

"I came because they told us we will be working in a kitchen and making 3,000 Saudi Riyals."

In December, The New York Times reported that Riyadh offered impoverished Sudanese families up to $10,000 to send their children to fight in Yemen.

"Families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money," the New York Times quoted one Sudanese child soldier as saying.

The report said that children made up at least 20 percent - and sometimes 40 percent - of the Sudanese battalion in Yemen.

Many had been brought in from the Darfur region of the west of Sudan, where some 300,000 people were killed and 1.2 million displaced during years of conflict. Saudi Arabia denied the reports earlier this year.

But despite the preogressive calls from a new Sudan, analysts believe the move is yet to be imposed.

"It is unlikely that anything will happen regarding a possible withdrawal of Sudanese soldiers from the Yemen conflict considering the transitional government is civilian-led and the armed forces are included within the council that came as a result of the agreement between the Sudanese opposition and the military," Yemen expert Mohammed al-Jaberi told The New Arab.

"The final say lies with the council itself and not the government and considering the strong connection between Hamiditi and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, it is unlikely for Sudanese forces to withdraw," he added.

"This is another clear example of the differences between the true powers that exist - the civil versus military."

It is estimated that hundreds of Sudanese have been killed in fighting in Yemen, in a conflict that has affected ordinary civilians as well as those from the highest ranks, among whom was the brother Houthi rebel chief Abdelmalik al-Houthi.

Revenge assassination 

But earlier this week, Yemen's Houthi rebels said on Wednesday they had killed the suspected assassin of the brother of their chief, in an assassination that was previously blamed on Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis' TV channel Al-Masirah reported last month that the rebel leader's brother Ibrahim Badreddine Amir al-Din al-Houthi had been "assassinated at the hands of traitors" working for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Houthis said their intelligence wing had killed Mohammad Ali Qaid Dawi, 54, in "a successful intelligence operation" in the city of Marib, deep inside territory held by the internationally-recognised Yemeni government, which is supported by Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis said their investigations had proved Dawi had links to "the Saudi enemy”.

But Saudi Arabia has other things on its plate this week.

Reports suggested Riyadh was pushing for a settlement between the internationally recognised Yemeni government and southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates. 

Officials from Saudi Arabia and the UAE have met separately to agree on a draft agreement before presenting it to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and the separatist Southern Transitional Council, which took control of Hadi's interim capital of Aden, Yemeni officials said. 

Read more: Yemen in Focus: Could the Yemen conflict crack the Saudi-UAE alliance?

In a strongly worded statement, Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it won't accept any attempts to "create a new reality in Yemen, using force or threats,” saying any threat to the stability of Yemen "amounts to a threat to the security and stability of the kingdom and the region."

The statement also called for "immediate" negotiations between Hadi's government and the STC.

Hadi's government has said the separatists must withdraw from its buildings and military camps in Aden before engaging in talks with them.

Hadi also wants militias of the STC in the southern areas to report to his government, a condition rejected by the STC and the UAE, officials said. The reports came as thousands of separatist supporters rallied in support of the UAE in Aden on Thursday, many of them waving colourful UAE flags.

Boycott Emirates

But despite support for the UAE among southern separatist circles, the sentiments are anything but shared among government ranks.

Senior Yemeni officials have joined activists in calling for a boycott of UAE products and airlines over their involvement in Yemen’s devastating war.

The calls came following the UAE's recent airstrikes against Yemeni government forces in Aden and support for southern separatists.

Abu Dhabi has been widely condemned for supporting southern militias that are at war with Yemeni government forces in Aden and other cities, including members of Hadi's administration.

Mukhtar al-Rahbi, the advisor to Yemen's minister of information tweeted: "Boycotting the products of the UAE after the crimes of the UAE against the Yemeni people and the Yemeni army and supporting an armed rebellion of the transitional racist coup militia."

Yemenis on social media have also reacted furiously to the UAE-backed attacks on government forces last week, describing Abu Dhabi's actions in Yemen as a "betrayal".

Some have called for a boycott Emirati airlines and products until the UAE ceases its support for southern separatists.

Read more: Yemen government rules out talks with UAE-backed southern separatists

The hashtags #boycott_Emirates_airline and #YemenisDemandKickOutTheUAE have been trending on Twitter, urging travellers not to help finance one of the UAE's best-known brands.

Rights groups and activists accuse the UAE and the Saudi-led military coalition of gross human rights violations in Yemen, including airstrikes on homes, schools and hospitals.

In fact, the US on Thursday renewed efforts to pressure Saudi Arabia over its human rights violations by pushing Riyadh to fulfil a pledge to give $750 million in aid to Yemen, Reuters reported, after seeing the letter penned by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

The senators urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to complete his country's contribution for aid in Yemen, highlighting that so far the Saudis have only given a small share of the $750 million commitment, according to the letter.

They highlighted that the UN is relies on that funding for life-saving aid programs, which include the delivery of food, medication, vaccinations and fuel to the impoverish war-torn country.

"If funding is not received by the end of October, 5 million people - in a country facing the largest cholera outbreak in modern history - will lose access to clean water," the letter said, according to Reuters.

The letter, which was address to MbS, was led by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and Republican Senator Todd Young, both of whom have been vocal critics of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations and role in the war on Yemen.

Anger has been mounting in Congress for months over the US President Donald Trump administration's close ties to the Saudis, fuelled by high civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen - a military campaign Washington is assisting - and the killing of US-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.

Tensions were further inflamed when Trump used an emergency declaration in May to sell the kingdom weapons that Congress had previously placed on hold.

The injection of aid could help millions at risk in Yemen, where the conflict has since killed tens of thousands of people - most of them civilians - and driven millions more to the brink of famine in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

he United Nations agencies for health and children have launched a diphtheria vaccination campaign in war-torn Yemen targeting over 2.8 million children between the ages of six weeks and 15 years.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday that over 4,000 Yemenis have gotten diphtheria since 2017 and more than 200 have died.

He says the World Health Organization and UNICEF report that preliminary data indicate that over 1 million children have been vaccinated within the first five days of the campaign.

Diphtheria is an infectious and contagious disease that usually involves the nose, throat, and air passages, but may also infect the skin.

Dujarric says more than 8,000 health workers and community volunteers are participating in the vaccination campaign in eight cities, including Hodeida, Al Jawf, Dhamar and Ibb.

Rights groups and humanitarian agencies say the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is largely man-made, caused by the upheaval of war.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino 

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.

Click below to see the full archive.