Sending mercenaries to Libya is the main source of income for armed groups from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, according to a report by the United Nations.
The report, drawn up by U.N. experts in charge of monitoring the arms embargo imposed on Sudan, said the guns-for-hire deals had been facilitated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
It said the activity meant that the arms embargo had been broken "with the transfer of arms and other military materiel into Darfur."
"Mercenary activities in Libya had been the major source of financing for most Darfurian movements" in 2021, the report said.
It noted that thousands of Sudanese mercenaries are in Libya in the service of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) controlled by putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar.
These mercenaries come from signatory and non-signatory movements of the Juba Peace Agreement, concluded in October 2020, the experts said, adding that they are not able to quantify the total number.
"Most Darfurian armed groups continued to work for the Libyan National Army in Libya during the reporting period, securing areas and manning checkpoints. In return for these tasks, the five main movements (SLA/MM, GSLF, SLA/TC, SLA/AW and SRAC) were receiving payments and logistical support," the U.N. experts said.
The report noted that "several sources in the movements said that the money and support were discussed and agreed upon in meetings between their military commanders and United Arab Emirates representatives in Libya."
"The payments were provided by the United Arab Emirates and channeled to the movements by the Libyan National Army, which took a cut," the report added.
The U.N. experts said that when confronted last November with allegations about providing "financial and military support to Darfurian forces (both in Sudan and in Libya), the United Arab Emirates referred to its country's moderate position and struggle against extremism and hate speech."
The report also said the Sudanese government had participated in the activities of the so-called "5+5" Joint Military Commission, which brings together representatives from eastern and western Libya to guarantee the cease-fire and the withdrawal of foreign fighters and troops from that country.
The U.N. experts said several "small groups" of Sudanese mercenaries operating in Libya had shown willingness to engage in peace talks and return to Sudan.
Darfur is a vast region in western Sudan regularly shaken by clashes linked, among other things, to territorial disputes or difficulties in accessing water.
The region has experienced a long war that has, since 2003, left at least 300,000 dead and 2.5 million people displaced, according to the U.N.
Foreign mercenaries and arms have poured into the country since Haftar launched his offensive, with Russia and the United Arab Emirates serving as the putschist general's top suppliers. According to the U.N., there are currently 20,000 foreign forces and/or mercenaries left in Libya.
Most of the foreign forces are concentrated around Sirte at Jufra airbase held by Haftar's forces 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Tripoli and further west in al-Watiya.
The Janjaweed militias were used by the Sudanese government to suppress the Darfur insurgency, a campaign that drew charges of genocide against its perpetrators including toppled autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
The Russian Wagner Group, which is owned by businessperson Yevgeny Prigozhin, a figure close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, also sent mercenaries to fight in Libya.
According to Foreign Policy magazine, a Pentagon document dated Nov. 25, 2020, confirmed the UAE's ties with the controversial group, describing it as a "surrogate for the Russian Ministry of Defense." The report also states that there are about 2,000 Wagner mercenaries in Libya and the group's presence in the war-torn country is "ambiguous."
The Kremlin previously denied any involvement with the Wagner Group.