The ongoing fighting between two groups in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region has claimed more than 200 lives in recent days. According to the UN, the situation is “appalling” because the violence has increased many.
Members of the Massalit community and Arab warriors have been clashing since Friday in and around the state capital El Geneina in western Darfur, the latest ethnic violence in the large, arid and impoverished region that has long been flooded with weapons.
Heavy gunfire was reported on Wednesday night in El Geneina, said Adam Regal of the General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur, an independent aid group.
“Weapons are fired extensively,” Regal said. “The situation is very dangerous.”
The fighting, which comes as Sudan wrestles with the fallout from a coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has seen hospitals attacked, a police station destroyed and a market burned to the ground, according to the UN
According to the state governor, at least 213 people have been killed in three days of violence. The clashes have revolved around Krink, a town of nearly 500,000 people, about 1,100 kilometers (685 miles) west of the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
West Darfur’s governor Khamees Abkar called the attacks a “massive crime” and noted that 201 people were killed and 103 injured on Sunday alone.
It is the latest in several rounds of recent clashes in which Massalit – largely settled peasants – are pitted against semi-nomadic Arab pastoralist groups.
“I am appalled,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a statement on Wednesday, calling for “impartial and independent” investigations into the attacks.
“I am concerned that this region continues to see repeated, serious incidents of inter-municipal violence, with mass losses,” she said.
The UN Security Council in New York held an urgent meeting with closed doors on the crisis on Wednesday.
Fierce fighting initially erupted on Friday when at least eight people were killed in the Krink region, where gunmen reportedly attacked Massalit villages in retaliation for killing two comrades.
The UN said more than 1,000 armed members of the Arab Rizeigat community had since swept into the city. Many militia fighters in the region are heavily armed and often drive pickups with machine guns.
The city of Krink “was completely destroyed, including state institutions,” said State Governor Abkar. “It is a crime against humanity.”
The governor attacked government forces tasked with securing Krink and its environs to “withdraw without any justification” when the main attacks began early Sunday.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), quoting local sources, said the Krink police station was set on fire, the hospital was attacked and the market was “looted and burned”.
The UN World Food Program has stopped the distribution of food aid to more than 60,000 people. “Nearby villages have also been attacked,” the UN added.
The fighting on Monday spread to the state capital El Geneina, where more deaths were reported.
Médecins Sans Frontières said on Tuesday that several medical workers were killed in the fighting when hospitals were attacked. The medical team said that their life-saving work had been limited due to the violence and that they were “incredibly worried” about its impact on them in urgent need. Conflicts in Darfur erupted in 2003 when rebels from ethnic minorities took up arms and complained of discrimination by then-President Omar al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government.
Khartoum responded by releasing Janjaweed, mainly recruited from Arab pastoralist tribes, who were accused of atrocities including murder, rape, looting and burning of villages, prompting the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for war crimes.
According to the UN, the campaign for burnt land killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.
While key rebel groups signed a peace deal in 2020, deadly clashes over land and livestock and access to water and grazing still erupted. In recent battles, witnesses have accused the Janjaweed militia of staging the violence.
According to rights groups, many of Janjaweed’s members were integrated into the dreaded paramilitary rapid reaction forces, under the command of General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, now de facto deputy leader in Sudan.
The Darfur Bar Association, a local civil society group, has called on the UN Security Council to help stop the violence in a statement condemning the “arbitrary killing of children, women and the elderly”.
At the request of the Sudanese Government, a joint UN and African Union mission, UNAMID, completed 13 years of peacekeeping operations in December 2020.
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