A mass grave has been discovered in Sudan’s West Darfur state with at least 87 bodies, as a regional summit hosted by Egypt to help solve the crisis in Sudan gets under way.
The United Nations human rights office said Thursday that it had credible information that the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were responsible, the same day the summit kicked off in Cairo.
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The UN said the mass grave includes the bodies of Masalit people, an indication of the ethnically-motivated fighting taking place in the state, as Sudan continues to be embroiled in a conflict that began on April 15 between the country’s army and the RSF.
People were forced to bury the bodies near the city of el-Geneina between June 20 and June 21, a UN statement said. Rights groups have reported attacks by the RSF and Arab militias against the non-Arab Masalit people in the region.
“I condemn in the strongest terms the killing of civilians and hors de combat individuals, and I am further appalled by the callous and disrespectful way the dead, along with their families and communities, were treated,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, calling for an investigation.
The RSF has denied being responsible for the graves, a senior official telling the Reuters news agency that he “completely denies any connection to the events in West Darfur as we are not party to it, and we did not get involved in a conflict as the conflict is a tribal one”.
Another RSF source told the agency it was being accused due to political motivations from the Masalit and others, with the force ready to comply with an investigation and to hand over any fighters who have broken the law.
The fighting in Darfur has raised fears about a repeat of atrocities that occurred there after 2003, when more than 300,000 people were killed in what amounted to ethnic cleansing.
Meanwhile, at the summit in Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi relayed his plan to end the conflict, which includes a three-month ceasefire, safe passages for aid, and communication between the warring factions.
“All our brothers in Sudan must uphold the supreme interest and keep Sudan’s politics and unity away from external interference that seeks to achieve narrow interests,” said el-Sisi.
Egypt’s plan rests on its historically close ties with the Sudanese army.
The summit was attended by the leaders of the Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya and South Sudan. The group also debated sending troops to Sudan to protect civilians.
The Egyptian plan was welcomed by most, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said it should align with the proposal made by an East African regional body called the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on Monday.
“As neighbouring countries working to overcome our own internal challenges, we should not be perceived to impart wisdom to our sisterly nation, nor should we further complicate a fragile situation by extending its longevity,” Abiy said.
Ethiopia and Egypt have had strained relations in recent years due to conflict over a dam constructed by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile.
The summit is the latest international peace mediation effort to address Sudan’s conflict after several United States-and-Saudi-brokered ceasefires have broken down in recent months.
Additionally, the IGAD summit was boycotted by Sudan’s army, which said that lead sponsor Kenya was biased.