(Bloomberg) -- Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service is being used by Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces amid a nationwide internet blackout that humanitarian agencies say is preventing people from accessing essential help during a brutal 10-month civil war.
The RSF, which is battling Sudan’s army, has had access to Starlink technology since August, according to diplomats and a humanitarian official in the Darfur region, one of whom who has been in contact with the RSF while it used the service. The devices have proliferated since Sudan’s internet went down more than a week ago and are being imported through corridors controlled by the RSF via neighboring Chad and South Sudan, the people said.
Videos and pictures of RSF soldiers using the technology have been posted widely on social media in recent days. Bloomberg couldn’t independently verify the images.
Fighting that erupted in Sudan in April has killed more than 12,000 people, destroyed the economy and forced 9 million other to flee their homes — the biggest mass internal displacement on Earth. The US State Department has accused members of both the army and RSF of committing war crimes in the fight to control the vast North African nation that sits on a stretch of Red Sea key to global shipping.
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A spokesperson for Starlink Inc. didn’t immediately respond to questions, nor did representatives of the RSF and Sudanese army.
Hassan Abdul Alaal, a trader in the city of Nyala in South Darfur, said some RSF-friendly traders in the region were now charging civilians about $2 per hour to use the Starlink services.
War Zone Staple
Starlink’s mobile routers have become an increasingly vital piece of wartime infrastructure, providing communications services in areas of fighting where the internet is down in countries around the world.
Musk activated the Starlink satellite service in Ukraine during the early months of Russia’s invasion. Ukrainian military intelligence said over the weekend that Russian forces have increasingly used Starlink terminals on the front line, which Starlink denies.
Both sides in Sudan’s conflict blame each other for the internet shutdown, which has affected companies such as South Africa’s MTN, Kuwait’s Zain Sudan and the state-owned Sudatel Telecom Group.
The Association of Sudanese Engineers said in a statement the RSF had cut the internet throughout the entire country because of a loss of connectivity in the vast western Darfur region, the paramilitaries’ stronghold.
Alfatih Erwa, Zain Sudan’s chief executive, said his company’s engineers had been prevented from restoring connections in Darfur due to insecurity and fuel and electricity shortages.
“The RSF insisted they will shut down the internet from the entire country if we didn’t bring back the internet to Darfur,” he told a local radio station over the weekend.
Martin Griffiths, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, on X slammed the “unacceptable” communications blackout he said was “preventing people from accessing essential services and transferring funds.”
--With assistance from Loni Prinsloo.
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