Fighting rages in West Darfur as Sudan marks one month of warfare

Human rights groups and civilians say another wave of deadly attacks has hit West Darfur’s capital, el-Geneina.

Dozens of people have been killed in the latest wave of attacks in Sudan’s Darfur region, human rights groups and residents say, as fighting between two competing military factions enters its second month.

Sudan has been gripped by violence since April 15 when a rivalry between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo morphed into an armed conflict.

The Sudanese capital has been the main theatre of fierce battles throughout the month, but clashes have been taking place also in Darfur – especially in el-Geneina, the capital of its western province.

Armed groups and RSF fighters have attacked the city for three days since Friday, looting and burning down entire neighbourhoods, civil rights groups and residents said.

The Darfur Bar Association said on Saturday that 77 people had died since violence broke out in the city, including the imam of the city’s old mosque, Muhammad Abdel Aziz Omar. A day after, the Sudanese Doctors Syndicate put the death toll at 280, noting that the figure includes the victims from just Friday and Saturday.

“The city of el-Geneina in West Darfur state is going through the worst and most violent events since the beginning of the clashes,” the group said in a statement. It added that snipers were placed in at least two neighbourhoods, preventing people from moving and accessing basic healthcare.

The city was under attack for a third consecutive day with continued gunfire, shelling and fires set in at least four neighbourhoods, according to local social media activist Alzahawi Idriss on Sunday. “The situation is catastrophic.”

The latest flare-up of violence came nearly three weeks after similar incidents took place in el-Geneina, Nyala and el-Fasher, the capitals of South and North Darfur states. Aid groups on the ground described a dire humanitarian situation as armed groups descended on the cities, looting hospitals and burning down camps for internally displaced people.

The two waves of attacks have caused thousands of people to cross into Chad. On the same day of the clashes in el-Geneina last week, the UN agency for refugees announced that an additional 30,000 people arrived in the neighbouring country, bringing the total number moving from Sudan to Chad since the conflict started to 60,000.

The rivalry between the army and RSF has taken on an intercommunal dimension in Darfur, pitting Arab communities against non-Arab groups and reviving memories of a devastating war that erupted in the region in 2003. More than 300,000 people died as part of then-President Omar al-Bashir’s effort to quash a non-Arab rebellion. The conflict ended with a peace deal in 2020, but violence has continued intermittently.

Both al-Burhan and Hemedti built up their military careers during the Darfur war, the former as commander of the army’s campaign in the region and the latter as a leader of the government-backed Janjaweed Arab fighters. That militia, accused by human rights groups of committing mass slaughters in Darfur, was repackaged in 2013 into the RSF.

Before falling out a month ago, the two military leaders shared power after a 2021 military coup. That move had derailed a civilian-led government’s attempt to push the country towards democratic rule after the removal of al-Bashir two years before.

The latest flare-up of violence in Darfur started soon after representatives of the two warring sides signed a declaration in principle on Friday in Saudi Arabia to protect civilians and guarantee safe passage for humanitarian aid.

Despite the talks – brokered by Saudi Arabia and the United States – and repeated past attempts to establish a ceasefire, hopes for a permanent truce are low as loud explosions sounded across Khartoum on Monday morning.

One month into the conflict, at least 679 people have been confirmed dead and more than 5,500 wounded. The real death toll is likely much higher as many people are reported missing.

The fighting has also forced about 200,000 people to cross into neighbouring countries and nearly a million people to be displaced within Sudan, according to the International Organization for Migration and the UN refugee agency.

A factory in Khartoum producing 60 percent of the food used by UNICEF to feed malnourished children was burned down, the UN said, adding to an already dire humanitarian crisis. UN agencies estimated that about a third of Sudan’s 45 million people faces acute lack of food.

Source: Al Jazeera