CAIRO (AP) — Sudan on Sunday said security forces arrested at least 122 people, including eight children, in the western Darfur region who intended to go and fight as mercenaries in neighboring Libya's civil war.
Brig. Gen. Gamal Gomaa, a spokesman for the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, said in a statement that 72 of the arrested people belonged to the Sudanese Awakening Revolutionary Council, an armed group led by the former Janjaweed militia leader Musa Hilal.
Hilal was an adviser to Sudan’s longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir before they had a falling out. Hilal quit his post in 2013 to establish his own armed group, and was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council for his involvement in the Darfur conflict. He was arrested in November 2017 and is imprisoned in the capital, Khartoum.
Sudan is currently undergoing a fragile democratic transition after massive protests last year forced the military to topple al-Bashir. The Darfur region remains scarred by war after a rebellion in the early 2000s against al-Bashir was brutally suppressed.
Meanwhile, Libya in recent years has turned into a regional proxy war, with rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign countries.
Gomaa did not say which warring side the arrested had intended to fight for. Sudanese armed groups from the Darfur region have been fighting on both sides of Libya’s conflict, according to a report by U.N. experts.
Gomaa said the 72 arrested militia members face an array of accusations, including attacking a military camp, inciting against the state, recruiting children for fighting and looting. The others would be handed over to police for further investigation, he said.
He said security forces in February arrested over 240 people for planning to join the fighting in Libya. He said they were brought before justice, without elaborating.
Libya has been in turmoil since a civil war in 2011 toppled Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The east-based military commander Khalifa Hifter launched a surprise offensive last year to take the capital Tripoli, clashing with an array of militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported but weak government there.
With heavy military support from Turkey, the Tripoli-allied militias have gained the upper hand in recent weeks, retaking the capital’s non-functioning airport, all the city’s main entrances and a string of western towns.
The Tripoli-allied militias are backed by Turkey, Qatar and Italy, while Hifter receives backing from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia.
Libya has the ninth-largest known oil reserves in the world, and many of these countries are apparently jockeying for influence in order to control Libya’s resources.