The rapidly rising levels of ethnic violence in Sudan are raising alarm about genocide as fierce fighting between warring generals of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) nears the end of its second month.
There have been numerous reports in recent days of intensifying violence in Sudan’s West Darfur region, which has previously seen decades of killings based on ethnicity.
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The city of el-Geneina, which has been experiencing a communications blackout for weeks, has been a focal point of attacks by Arab nomadic tribes linked with the RSF against the non-Arab Masalit tribespeople.
The ruthless violence, which left residents sheltering indoors, fearing death if they even leave home to get food and water, has prompted local activists and observers outside the country to sound the alarm, saying what is happening is genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Some warn that, if left unchecked, the current cycle of violence could become worse than the Darfur uprising that began 20 years ago and left 300,000 dead and displaced 2.5 million as the central government empowered the RSF to fight the rebelling non-Arab tribes.
Local activists say that at least 1,100 people have been killed and more wounded during attacks in el-Geneina that began in late April, shortly after the start of the war between forces led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo.
Today's update [June 12] is an urgent message to all those following events in Sudan, particularly those of the intl community involved in efforts to "resolve" the situation — from the US/KSA to IGAD to the AU/UN:
A genocide is taking place in West Darfur. #KeepEyesOnSudan
— Munchkin (@BSonblast) June 13, 2023
A doctors’ association in Darfur, which monitors the situation, this week compared the intensity of the violence with the massacres of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
The Sudanese Ministry of Health said on Monday that it is facing difficulties sending aid to different states, especially Darfur. International stakeholders have so far not been able to establish a humanitarian corridor into Darfur either, due to the risks.
Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) on Sunday called el-Geneina “one of the worst places on Earth”. The Darfur Bar Association said the same day that local community leaders, lawyers, medical doctors and journalists are being particularly targeted in attacks, and an unknown number of them have been killed.
In North Darfur, the local governor’s office declared the city of Kutum a “disaster zone” on Tuesday after many people fled to the state’s capital of el-Fasher in dire conditions.
There have also been reports of worsening violence in the southern Kordofan region, where RSF-backed militias are fighting army forces.
Some Sudanese residents have taken to social media to post information about their missing loved ones in hopes of receiving information.
A 24-hour ceasefire negotiated by Saudi Arabia and the United States that came into effect early on Saturday had temporarily stopped the fighting, but the generals appeared to be using the time to mobilise their forces as even more intense fighting broke out immediately after the truce ended on Sunday.
The capital city of Khartoum continues to be a main scene of fighting as well, with intense air raids, shelling and gunfire reported after the ceasefire ended, “disappointing” mediators who threatened to halt their efforts if the two forces refuse to alter course.
An Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit held on Monday proposed a new plan to end the conflict, while the African Union has warned that the fighting could easily turn into a full-fledged civil war.
IGAD includes eight African countries, namely Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.
Kenyan President William Ruto on Monday promised to arrange a “face-to-face” meeting between al-Burhan and Hemedti within days and establish a humanitarian corridor.
Meanwhile, a United Nations spokesperson said on Monday that the organisation plans to hold a pledging conference in Geneva on June 19 to support its humanitarian response plan in Sudan and the region.
After al-Burhan declared Volker Perthes, the head of the UN mission to Sudan “persona non grata” last week, Hemedti said in a statement he fully supports the work done by Volker and other international stakeholders, a move seen as aiming to boost the RSF’s international credibility.
The fighting has led to a record 25 million people – more than half the population – now needing aid and protection, according to the UN.
The UN also said the conflict has displaced nearly two million people and forced about half a million residents to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.
After more than 200,000 people fled to Egypt, mostly by land, Sudan’s northern neighbour announced it was toughening visa requirements for previously exempt groups, including women of all ages, and males under 16 and over 50.
Cairo, however, said the requirements were designed to stop illegal activities like forging entry visas.
Sudan’s western neighbour, Chad, is another country seeing an influx of tens of thousands of traumatised Sudanese fleeing the war.
The UN has organised camps to accommodate some of the war-stricken Sudanese in Chad but, considering limited capacities, many, including children, are still living in impromptu camps that suffer from shortages of food, water, medicine and adequate shelter.