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Cablegate: Desert Arab Sheikh Complains of Gos Indifference

VZCZCXRO8249
PP RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1124/01 2091351
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 271351Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1435
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 001124

DEPT FOR AF/SPG, S/CRS, AF SE WILLIAMSON
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KPKO SOCI AU UNSC SU
SUBJECT: DESERT ARAB SHEIKH COMPLAINS OF GOS INDIFFERENCE

REF: (A) KHARTOUM 463
(B) KHARTOUM 454

1. (SBU) Summary: A North Kordofan desert Arab sheikh told poloff
that Darfur insecurity has changed the way camels from the region
are transported to Libya - by truck to avoid raids by the Justice
and Equality Movement (JEM) and take advantage of empty trucks
returning to Libya. He criticized JEM and other intolerant religious
groups for possibly threatening the traditional Sudanese Sufi
version of Islam and his tribe's traditional mediation role. He also
criticized the government for ignoring his tribesmen by not
providing government services such as medical and veterinarian care.
End summary.

CLOSER TRIBAL ECONOMIC TIES TO LIBYA
------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Nomadic desert Arab tribal Sheikh Abel Gadir, of the Ashraf
tribe, described life for desert Arabs during a recent conversation
with poloff. Life for the Ashraf, who reside in the broad
geographic area of the Libyan Desert that extends into North
Kordofan, North Darfur and the Northern State, traditionally
revolved around tending camel herds and occasionally making the
15-day trip to the Kufra Oasis in Libya where they sell camels to
buy millet and dates. (Note: Many of the Ashraf now live in towns
such as Obeid and Nahud. End note.)

3. (SBU) As an alternative to herding the camels to Libya, some
herders have sought to rent Libyan trucks that are returning to
Libya after selling their goods in El-Fasher. Gadir said that until
recently, many tribesmen preferred to herd their camels rather than
pay 1,000 Libyan dinars, the price to transport up to 15 three-year
old camels by truck. While cost was certainly part of the
calculation, he said that many desert Arabs believed that the
three-day trip by truck weakened young camels, which would then
bring less than the usual 1,500 Libyan dinar price.

4. (SBU) However, in the past year, the price of camel transport to
Libya's Kufra oasis has softened as trucks coming from Libya stop in
North Kordofan to sell their millet and dates rather than travel the
longer and more dangerous journey to the North Darfur State capital,
El Fasher. To avoid transporting an empty truck back to Libya, the
truckers have slashed their prices as much as half resulting in many
tribesmen planning to sell their camels in Libya. Gadir said despite
the lower transport prices he plans to continue herding camels
overland, but that the recent May 10 Justice and Equality Movement
(JEM) attack on Omdurman has made trucking camels to Libya even more
attractive.

DESERT TRIBES MOVED EAST TO AVOID RETREATING JEM
-------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Gadir said that shortly after the May 10 JEM attack on
Omdurman, many desert Arabs encountered JEM attackers who were
making their way west back toward the Tibesti Mountain Plateau in
Chad. He said that with the vehicles running out of fuel, the JEM
fighters they encountered demanded the desert Arabs give them
camels. He added that the JEM believed that traveling by camel made
them less likely to be observed by patrolling Sudanese aircraft and,
more significantly said Gadir, the camels could be milked for food
and then easily sold for cash upon arrival in Chad. Gadir said that
his tribe is armed, but they wanted to avoid any needless conflict
and therefore provided the camels to the JEM. After initial
encounters, he decided to avoid future JEM contact. "We gave them
camels, and I specifically instructed my people not to follow them
or to steal them back." Gadir said that to avoid any additional
encounters with the JEM, many desert Arabs quickly traveled east
hoping to avoid any fleeing JEM fighters. The downside to this, said
Gadir, is that Kufra Oasis is now farther away, so herding camels to
Kufra will take longer and increase their exposure to theft from any
JEM stragglers. As a result, many tribesmen will probably transport
their camels by truck, further cementing their economic ties to
Libya.

NOT A JEM SUPPORTER
-------------------

6. (SBU) Asked whether his tribe supported JEM and their attack on
Omdurman, Gadir said that while it's true that desert Arabs gave
food to JEM fighters on their way to Omdurman, this was an act of
hospitality rather overt support. He said that the Ashraf tribe are
traditional mediators in Sudanese desert society and pride
themselves on maintaining good relations with all tribes including
the Zaghawa. He even claimed to have negotiated with "sultan"
Mansur Dousa Deby, brother of Idriss Deby. However, he said JEM and
other groups that support less tolerant forms of Islam threaten his
own tribe's traditional Sufi-based beliefs, and more importantly,

KHARTOUM 00001124 002.2 OF 002


their traditional mediation role. Gadir expressed concern that this
traditional role (as well as the Ashraf tribe's place in desert
society) would be totally undermined if the young militant JEM
ZaNhawa, along with the Bideiyat (closely related to the Zaghawa),
are able to establish a separate "sultanate" under Chadian President
Idriss Deby composed of parts of Chad and areBs of Kordofan.

BUT CRITICAL OF THE GOVERNMENT
------------------------------

7. (SBU) Asked if his tribesmen were reFruited to serve as janjaweed
in Darfur, Gadir sidestepped the question by Biting his tribe's
traHitional 2ole as mediators and the\ la-basted the government for
doing nothing to dispel foreigner's negative impressions of the
desert Arabs. He complained that the government is leaving the
desert Arabs ho take the blame for the killings in Darfur. He@added
that the governZent has forgotten its commitment to the desert ArabsQ
and needs to provide medical and veterinarian care.

COMMENT
-------

8. (SBU) The Ashraf tribe is smaller than largJr Arab tribes such as
the Kababish and Rizeigat, and many have now settled in towns in
Kordofan such as Obeid and Nahud. The Ashraf traditionally have had
connections to tribes in Libya, and have always sold their camels in
either Libya or Egypt. The transition to transporting camels by
truck also represents a change in the lifestyle of the AshraL, who
now live in towns and are less likely to makJ th% journey with their
caZels across the desert if trucks are available cheaply. The
sheikh's Fomplaint that his tribe@may lose its mediation role is
somewhat overstated, as hhe Ashraf is a small tribe 7ith little
i\fluence, but 4he complaint about government neglect is coZmon
among all Arab tribes in Darfur and Kordofan, and shows how limited
the regime's support is Rn these areas. Ashraf, like all Arab
tribes Rn these regions, have been recru)ted to serve as PDF
(Popular Defense ForcJs) or "murahaleen" in the Sojth and
"janjaweed" in Darfjr in the past, and by complaining to us about
the government these tribes Pope to distance themselves from the
regime. This is likely why the sheikh sought us out, with the
useful pretext of sharing some interesting st^ries about camel
trading and encounters with JEM in the desert.

FERNAND
Z

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