Sudan steps up 'popular defence' force training

By Mohamed Ali Saeed

From Agence France Presse, February 3, 1995.

One state government in east Sudan has already set up 400 military training camps in compliance with a call by President Omar el-Beshir for a million men capable of bearing arms by the end of the year.

The governor of Gedaref State, Sherif Ahmed Omar Badr, said authorities there have trained more than 60,000 Popular Defence Force (PDF) recruits in compliance with General Beshir's call for mobilization.

His government plans to train more than 50,000 others during the current holy fasting month of Ramadan and will continue to recruit other batches "until all the people of Gedaref are trained", Badr told AFP.

The state's popular defence coordinator, Ahmed Osman al-Nour, said that in all 70,000 recruits had been trained, and it appeared that the target of a million could be reached.

Hundreds of thousands of people from different professional groups and backgrounds have undergone military training in various parts of the Sudan with the PDF.

The PDF is one of the institutions set up by Beshir after his junta ousted an elected civilian government in June 1989, scrapped political parties and trade unions and established an radical Islamic regime.

PDF recruits are sent to an advanced course in fighting techniques before being dispatched to zones in south Sudan to fight alongside government soldiers against the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

Badr said that the latest batch of recruits was named after an engineer killed on the front last month, "Martyr Dr. Mahmoud Mohamed Sherif," according to a press statement, and that some of these men would be sent to Khartoum to join a PDF regiment Beshir has ordered mobilized.

He said there was no direct link between the passing out of the recruits and deteriorating relations with neighbouring Eritrea, and took up Beshir's words, saying the government is bent on military training in line with Islamic commands to ready and mobilize forces to "intimidate the foes of Allah."

The training was not specifically to cope with the situation along the border with Eritrea, but to provide men to be ready for any emergency, the governor said.

In addition to Gedaref, Eritrea borders on the Sudanese states of Red Sea and Kassala and the shortest part of the frontier is with his own state, the governor said.

Eritrea broke off diplomatic ties with Sudan early last December, accusing the Khartoum junta of seeking to destabilise the Horn of Africa nation.

Badr declared that Eritrean military units were concentrating on the border and blamed the poor relations on the government in Asmara, saying it had some motive that drove it into antagonizing Sudan.

"Our ties with the Eritrean people are firm," Badr said.

He also described as relations with Ethiopia as "excellent" following a meeting of a joint committee of his state government and representatives of the neighbouring Ethiopian region

The comittee resolved some differences over an undemarcated border.

PDF coordinator Al-Nour told AFP that one of his achievements was maintenance of security along the Ethiopian border. The PDF set up an expansive farm near the frontier town of Fagasha, manned with its troops, under a Green Security scheme. Other soldiers were protecting private farms.

Nour said the PDF helped safeguard highways with round-the-clock patrols to fight off armed bandits. Some PDF elements have also been given special trainingin anti-smuggling operations, he said.

Since the establishment of the PDF in 1990, the state has sent more than a thousand "mujahedeen" (combattants) to the southern war front, where 150 of the recruits were still fighting, Nour said.

He expressed pride that the state had offered 17 of the mujahedeen as "martyrs."

The rebel SPLA has been fighting since 1983 to free mainly Christian and animist south Sudan from the Islamic, Arabised north. The mainstream SPLA is led by Colonel John Garang, but the movement has latterly been weakened by factional splits and Khartoum's troops have made gains.