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Doctors: 87 killed in Sudan West Darfur fighting

April 7, 2021

The region has seen a flare-up in violence between Arab and Masalit tribesmen since UN peacekeepers left the region. Local doctors say a further 191 have been injured in the last five days of fighting.

Attack on the Abu Zar camp in West Darfur, Sudan
A camp for displaced persons was set ablaze during the days of fightingImage: AP/picture alliance

The West Darfur Doctors' Committee said Wednesday that 87 people have died in five days of fighting between Massalit and Arab communities in Sudan.

The violence was a new round in a conflict that saw deadly clashes earlier this year and in 2019. The fighting in El Geneina, the state capital of West Darfur, forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes in January, according to the UN. The attacks took place soon after the UN withdrew its peacekeepers from the region.

The fighting destroyed a power station, an ambulance was attacked and a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Sultan Tajeldin Hospital. Other hospitals were damaged in the fighting.

The Doctors' Committee condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms," calling them "barbaric behavior which cannot be justified under any circumstances."

The UN said on Tuesday that the "inter-communal violence further deteriorates an already dire situation for vulnerable people."

State of emergency

The government declared a state of emergency on Monday and deployed troops to West Darfur. The UN said it suspended flights and aid to El Geneina. The airport has served as a key hub for humanitarian assistance. The UN said the decision to end flights into the city would affect up to 700,000 people.

The fighting has subsided somewhat in recent days. A member of the Doctors' Committee told Reuters that the fighters "may have become exhausted, or maybe it's a warrior's rest."

The humanitarian situation in the city remains dire, as thousands of people remain in the streets. A nearby camp for displaced people was burned down in the recent fighting.

Who are the Masalit?

Masalit people primarily live in western Sudan and usually make their living as farming communities. Cultural Survival, a US-based organization that advocates for indigenous populations, estimated in 2008 that there were about 145,000 Masalit living in Sudan. They were one of the main targets of the Sudanese government during the civil war.

In its previous ruling against former President Omar al-Bashir, the ICC said, "there are reasonable grounds to believe that Omar al-Bashir acted with specific intent to destroy in part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups."

History of violence

Sudan's Darfur region has been in the grips of a bloody civil war since 2003. The UN has said that the ongoing conflict has killed about 300,000 people and left 2.5 million displaced.

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It began after ethnic minority rebels attempted to fight against then president Omar al-Bashir's Arab-dominated government. Al-Bashir responded with the notorious Janjaweed Arab-dominated militia.

The conflict has subsided in recent years, with the latest peace deal signed last October. But the violence has not completely stopped. Weapons have become plentiful in the area due to the conflict, which has been considered genocide by some foreign leaders. The former president is wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges due to the conflict.

Sudan is still undergoing a transition after Al-Bashir was toppled in April 2019 following mass protests against his rule. The transitional government has pushed for peace with rebel groups in Sudan's main conflict areas, including Darfur.

kbd/msh (AFP, Reuters)