Dozens killed, thousands displaced in wave of Darfur violence

Residents flee series of violent incidents that have left at least 138 people dead in Sudan’s West Darfur state.

The Zamzam refugee camp
The Zamzam refugee camp was encircled by militias amid growing inter-communal violence in Darfur. [File: Olivier Chassot/UNAMID via Reuters]

At least 138 people have been killed and dozens wounded in three separate areas of Sudan’s West Darfur state in recent weeks, medics have said, in the latest bout of inter-communal violence.

The West Darfur Doctors Committee said in statements on Wednesday and Thursday that attacks in the Kreinik area killed 88 and wounded 84, while renewed violence in the rugged Jebel Moon mountains killed 25 and wounded four. Meanwhile, violence in the Sarba locality killed eight and wounded six.

“Many of the wounded died because they could not reach medical facilities, and community clinics in rural areas are not equipped,” the doctors said.

Violence first broke out on November 17 between armed Arab camel herders in the Jebel Moon area. West Darfur Governor Khamis Abdallah said the violence was sparked by “a dispute over camel looting”, and that “military reinforcements have been sent to the area and the situation has stabilised”.

On December 4, separate clashes erupted in the Krenik region of West Darfur between rival groups using automatic weapons.

“They have created a wave of displacement from the outskirts into the town, with a humanitarian situation that can be described at the very least as catastrophic,” the doctor’s union said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Coordinating Committee for Refugee and Displacement Camps, a local NGO, said Zamzam refugee camp was encircled by militias and the Donki Shata area of North Darfur was also attacked.

According to the United Nations, the violence in Jebel Moon alone has displaced more more than 10,000 people, with 2,000 fleeing across the border into Chad.

Between January and September 2021, displacement has been about seven times more than during the whole of 2020, constituting the highest number of displacements in at least six years, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says.

Violence reminiscent of Darfur war

The new clashes in Darfur are reminiscent of the years of inter-communal violence that preceded the eruption of conflict in 2003, fought between ethnic minority rebels, who complained of discrimination, and the Arab-dominated government of then-President Omar al-Bashir.

Khartoum responded to the rebellion by unleashing armed Arab militias, known as Popular Defence Forces (Janjaweed), blamed for atrocities including murder, rape, and the looting and burning of villages.

The violence resulted in one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes. More than 300,000 people died and 2.5 million were displaced during the conflict, according to the UN.

Al-Bashir, who was overthrown in 2019 and has since been in Sudanese detention, has been wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court or ICC for more than 10 years over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Violence in Darfur’s five states increased amid divisions following al-Bashir’s military removal after months, including in West Darfur, long considered the most peaceful.

Since December 2019, West Darfur has experienced four waves of violence, three of which took place in or in the vicinity of the state capital El-Geneina.

Most of the violence took the form of attacks by armed members of Arab communities, including members of security forces, against generally unarmed non-Arab civilians. It resulted in the killing, rape, enforced disappearances and widespread forced displacement of population, according to a recent report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Sudan’s fragile democratic transition following al-Bashir’s removal was put in question on October 25, when the military dissolved the civilian government, arrested political leaders and declared a state of emergency.

Successive anti-coup protests have drawn large crowds across the country, despite increasing violence against demonstrators.

Protesters have not been quelled by a deal between army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s deal and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok that saw the latter restored to his position nearly a month after the coup.

Experts say the surge in violence in Darfur has likely been aggravated by the gradual withdrawal of the joint mission from the UN and the African Union to Darfur (UNAMID) in December 2020, blaming transitional authorities for failing to fulfil their promise to protect civilians better than the international force.

“National authorities and the international community must urgently deal with the bloody reality of this spiralling violence,” Will Carter of the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement on Wednesday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies