Military intelligence officials have been told informally to prepare to plan around “the problem of information flow from operationally deployed units” after reports that Sudan sought to intimidate South African forces in that country.
Soldiers deployed as part of the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid) sent word to friends and family in South Africa about a sudden upsurge in Sudanese military activity near their bases, as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir faced being detained in South Africa.
“We’ve been told we’ll have to look at how it works that these things end up on Facebook,” an army intelligence officer in South Africa told the Mail & Guardian. “If units don’t have the discipline to maintain operational security we have to think about the lines of communication.”
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Beeld defence journalist Erica Gibson on Tuesday reported that South African soldiers had in effect been held hostage in Sudan by heavily armed government troops around their bases, and that the Sudanese troops withdrew after al-Bashir left South Africa. Family members of South African troops later confirmed they had received similar messages.
The Sudanese army denied it had surrounded South African troops and the Sudanese foreign ministry called the reports “imaginary”. Unamid and the South African Defence Force denied any hostage situation and emphasised the good working relationships between peacekeeping troops and soldiers of the host government. They didn’t deny a sudden upsurge in Sudanese military activity on the weekend, but rather explained it as preparation for Ramadan.
South Africa’s 800 troops in Sudan are stationed in the far north at three bases: Malha, considered the most isolated and vulnerable of the Unamid position; Kutum, where two South African soldiers were seriously wounded in an ambush in October 2014; and Mellit, briefly captured by rebels in a battle in March 2014.
The intelligence officer said “information leakage” about the situation in Sudan was of particular concern at present. The Unamid mission’s mandate expires at the end of June and Khartoum, apparently with the backing of China and Russia, has pushed for the withdrawal of Unamid troops.
Although the UN secretariat does not believe Sudan to be ready for such a withdrawal, Bashir has apparently been lobbying the AU to throw its weight behind the demand.
Unamid is a hybrid mission of the UN and the AU and has been deployed in Sudan since 2007.