Western Darfur witnesses new wave of inter-ethnic violence

At least a hundred people have been killed in the past three weeks in attacks by Janjaweed militia backed by the army's Rapid Action Forces

AP/ABD RAOUF  -   Government troop convoy in the village of Tabit in the North Darfur region of Sudan.

Sudan is a powder keg. The African country is collecting crises as the political transition fizzles out after the 25 October coup d'état. The latest front for Khartoum is once again that of the western region of Darfur, a recurrent scene of violent clashes between the civilian population and militias backed by the army, where half a hundred people have lost their lives in the last few days. This situation is further exacerbating the instability in the country. 

The acting governor of West Darfur State, Mohammed Issa Alieu, announced on Monday that at least 48 people were killed during a Janjaweed militia attack on the local market and a camp for displaced people in the town of Kreinik, about 80 kilometres from the state capital, Geneina. The state, which borders Chad, has witnessed an outbreak of violence in recent weeks during a series of tribal clashes between ethnic Arabs and Africans. 

AFP quoted sources in the camp as saying that the attackers, belonging to the Janjaweed paramilitary force, laid siege to the village early in the morning and then launched an offensive with heavy weapons, setting fire to the camp and causing damage to a dozen neighbourhoods in the town. Locals point to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as the main instigators of the attack.

Campo de desplazados Sudán
REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLASH  -  Internally displaced persons at Kalma camp for displaced persons, in Darfur, Sudan, 26 April 2019

"The authorities are responsible for protecting civilians and ensuring the rule of law," said UNHCR's special coordinator for the region, Toby Hardward. Protection is unlikely given the stance adopted by the Rapid Support Forces since the beginning of the conflict. The army branch has unequivocally backed the ethnic Arab Janjaweed militia against African tribal groups since the Darfur fighting began in 2003. 

The UN refugee agency's regional coordinator for the region confirmed the developments on Twitter and expressed concern about the escalating violence in the area. Hardward also said that the latest offensive comes "after the killings and revenge attacks in Murnei". Sunday's attack was apparently in retaliation for a fight a day earlier in which six people were killed. 

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) dates the start of the conflict to mid-November, when Arab nomads and farmers from the Misseriya Jebel tribe clashed in the village of Jebel Moon. The spiral of violence then resulted in 50 deaths and several villages burned and looted. Of the 68,500 people in the town, more than 46,600 are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the Sudan Humanitarian Needs Overview 2022. 

Some 7,000 people have left western Darfur because of the new wave of violence, of whom 2,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring Chad. This group of displaced people is mostly women and children, and adds to the total of 380,000 Sudanese hosted by N'Djamena since the outbreak of the conflict in Darfur almost two decades ago. This is when war broke out in Darfur following the uprising of minority African ethnic groups against former President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Omar al-Bashir
ARCHIVO/SUDÁN FILES  -  In this photo taken on August 19, 2019 former ruler Al-Bashir faces a corruption trial in Khartoum

The dictator responded forcefully to the social outburst, which was caused by Khartoum's political and economic discrimination in the region. Al-Bashir sent in the Janjaweed. A militia that committed all sorts of atrocities. From murder to rape, looting to arson. Actions that cost them the unanimous denunciation of the international community, but which allowed them to join the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, alias Hemedti. 

Through his management of the war in Darfur, al-Bashir unravelled the unity of the army by subcontracting militias subordinate to the state, all in an attempt to prevent a cohesive challenge to his power. However, it would be the armed forces themselves who would end up overthrowing him in 2019, and Hemedti would use the command of the RSF, the umbrella branch of the Janjaweed paramilitary force, to gain weight within the institution. The current number two in the Sovereign Transitional Council, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, is the military officer who wields the most power. 

The civil war in Darfur has claimed more than 300,000 victims, according to the UN count. And the ravages and inter-ethnic divisions remain. These consequences continue to reverberate in Sudan today, marked by a fragile democratic transition that is trying to wrest power from the army in a country where the institution has subjugated society practically since independence in 1956.