An attack leaves 48 dead and 97 injured in Sudan's West Darfur region

Tribal violence between the Arab and African communities continues
Maintenance personnel from the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) stand guard

AFP/ASHRAF SHAZLY  -   Maintenance personnel from the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) stand guard

A militia offensive in Sudan's western Darfur state killed at least 48 people and injured 97, the Sudanese state news agency SUNA reported Sunday, and the West Darfur Medical Union confirmed in a statement.

The attack began on Saturday in the town of Geneina and was a real tragedy with nearly fifty dead and nearly a hundred injured. The official note from the West Darfur Medical Union said health workers worked to provide medical care to the victims despite shortages of supplies and nursing staff.

"Armed militia took advantage of the incident and attacked Geneina from all sides," the organization said, as well as the nearby Kreinding camp for internally displaced persons, from where there is now a wave of people moving towards the city, as SUNA noted. The medical association accused the militia of looting and human rights abuses.

In this scenario, an urgent appeal was made to strengthen health facilities and provide armed transport to take medical personnel to government and private health centres.

The official statement stressed that medical personnel need assistance to reach the wounded and affected in the areas of fighting, as well as to deliver medical supplies to facilities housing the wounded. It further detailed that several people needed urgent surgery in hospitals due to lack of staff and means. 

The attack came just weeks after UN peacekeepers began to withdraw from the region, where violence is escalating, especially after a Masalit tribesman stabbed an Arab tribesman, according to a statement by the Darfur Bar Association. 

Similar incidents have occurred in Darfur since the conflict began in 2003, when the government of ousted Omar al-Bashir armed various militias to help suppress a revolt.

Miembros de la misión de la Unión Africana en Darfur (UNAMID) en el campamento de Zamzam para desplazados internos en Darfur del Norte
AFP/ASHRAF SHAZLY - Members of the African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)

On Saturday, the governor of West Darfur declared a state of emergency, authorising the use of force to stabilise the situation and imposing a curfew. Although the army had begun to deploy, the bar association said the region's commander had not responded to the state governor's directives. 

The curfew imposed in the state of West Darfur, on Sudan's border with Chad, came after dozens of people were killed in clashes between two tribes, just two weeks after the end of the aforementioned UN peace mission mandate.

"The curfew comes into force this Saturday until further notice and includes the closure of all markets and a ban on meetings in all parts of the state," the governor of West Darfur, Mohamed Abdullah, announced in an official note. The decision was aimed at "imposing order and stability, extending the prestige of the state and restoring tranquillity to the city", the statement added.

Since violence broke out in Geneina on Friday, dozens of people have been killed and injured in tribal clashes between Arabs and communities of African origin. 

These latest incidents come just weeks after the end of the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) on 31 December. The mission was deployed in Darfur in 2007 in the midst of a bloody civil war that left more than 300,000 dead between 2003 and 2008, according to the UN itself, and in which Arab and African tribes clashed, the first used by Khartoum against inhabitants who denounced discrimination by the central government.

After the fall of Omar al-Bashir's regime in a coup d'état staged by the army following mass citizen protests in the face of the difficult social and political situation, a political process has taken place which has put an end to the understanding in Sudan between the Sovereign Council led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the provisional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok with the aim of carrying out a democratic transition in the country with the final objective of holding elections. Although violence continues to exist in certain areas of the country, particularly in the conflictive region of Darfur.

Since the coup d'état that removed then President Omar al-Bashir from power on 11 April 2019, Sudan has continued to be immersed in a process of democratic transition. After months of intense negotiations, a transitional government led by a civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was agreed upon with the civilian platform Forces for Freedom and Change, initiating a three-year period in which military and civilians would share power until elections were held. 

El primer ministro de Sudán, Abdalla Hamdok
PHOTO/REUTERS - Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok

Even so, violence has continued to be a constant in the region, specifically in Western Darfur, where the clashes have caused thousands of citizens to be displaced beyond national borders. 

On 23 December the United Nations Security Council decreed the definitive withdrawal of the UNAMID mission from Sudan after 13 years. This decision was taken after the signing of the peace agreement last October with the two main leaders of the armed groups still active in Darfur. The conflict in Darfur began in 2003 and the UN-African Union mission in 2007, following the outbreak of violence by armed groups and the state. From 1 January 2021 to 30 June this year, there will be a transitional phase in which some of the mission's troops and police personnel will remain on the ground to secure the area. 

Together with the announcement of UNAMID's departure, the UNITAMS mission established on 3 June with a mandate to ensure the transitional process takes over. More specifically, according to the text of the Security Council declaration, the UNITAMS mission will have the following objectives: "To assist in the political transition, (...) the protection and promotion of human rights and sustainable peace; (...) to help consolidate peace, the protection of civilians and the rule of law, in particular in Darfur and the Two Areas and to support the mobilisation of economic and development assistance and the coordination of humanitarian aid". 

It is expected that during UNAMID's six-month exit, the UNITAMS mission will be operational, otherwise a security vacuum could arise. Everything seems to indicate that the UNITAMS mission will not be ready until the end of 2021, so the Sudanese government will have to make a greater effort to maintain security, especially in the months when there is no UN support mission on the ground.