Middle East/North Africa

Saudi Arabia recruited Darfur children for Yemen war: report

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Saudi Arabia has reportedly recruited children from Darfur to join its military campaign in Yemen.

The New York Times reports that as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen have been fighting for the Saudi-led coalition over the last four years.

Almost all of those fighters come from Darfur, which had its own civil war resulting in 300,000 deaths and 1.2 million people displaced in the early 2000s.

Many of the militiamen helping the Saudi-led coalition belong to the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces, who were blamed for the systematic raping of women and girls and indiscriminate killing during the conflict in Darfur, according to the Times.{mosads}

According to fighters that the Times interviewed, the Sudanese were used on the front lines of the conflict. Five fighters who returned from Yemen told the Times that children made up at least 20 percent of their units. Two said children made up more than double that percentage.

“The Saudis told us what to do through the telephones and devices,” Mohamed Suleiman al-Fadil, a 28-year-old member of the Bani Hussein tribe who returned from Yemen at the end of last year, told the newspaper. “They never fought with us.”

“The Saudis would give us a phone call and then pull back,” added Ahmed, a 25-year-old member of the Awlad Zeid tribe. “They treat the Sudanese like their firewood.”

Saudi Arabia reportedly offers pay that many Sudanese cannot decline.

“People are desperate. They are fighting in Yemen because they know that in Sudan they don’t have a future,” Hafiz Ismail Mohamed, a former banker, economic consultant and critic of the government, told the Times.

“We are exporting soldiers to fight like they are a commodity we are exchanging for foreign currency.”

The Saudi-led war in Yemen has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by the United Nations. As many as 12 million people in the country are near starvation because of blockades, according to human rights groups.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate voted to end American support for the conflict, although the House will have to approve such a move next year.

The Senate had supported aiding Saudi military operations earlier in the year, but changed their position following outcry over the death of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

President Trump has maintained that he would stand by the Saudi government, despite reports that U.S. intelligence has linked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Khashoggi’s killing inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October. 

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