A new round of violence in Sudan’s Darfur region has killed more than 60 people, the United Nations said on Sunday, as the country’s prime minister promised fresh troops for the conflict-stricken region.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan (OCHA) said about 500 armed men on Saturday attacked the village of Masteri, located 48km (30 miles) south of Geneina, the capital of West Darfur province.
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The latest clashes between the Masalit and other Arab tribes in the area started on Saturday and lasted until late Sunday, state-run SUNA news agency reported, citing unnamed sources.
The SUNA report did not provide a death toll, but said dozens of people were killed or wounded, and more than 60 injured were taken by helicopter to Geneina for treatment.
Local authorities asked for military reinforcements to halt the clashes, the report said.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said the government would send security forces to conflict-stricken Darfur to “protect citizens and the farming season”.
The force will include army and police, he said in a statement after he met a delegation of women from the region.
An unconfirmed number of houses were looted and burned in the village, along with half the local market, OCHA said. The village borders Chad.
The attack prompted about 500 people to start a protest camp in front of the Masalit Sultan House, a settlement hosting about 4,200 internally displaced people in Masteri, the UN agency said.
The protesters called for the authorities to protect them from attacks.
Saturday’s attack was the latest in a series of attacks in the area. OCHA documented at least seven between July 19 and 26, which killed or wounded dozens.
Tensions remain high in West Darfur, following the rapid increase in recent weeks in the number and frequency of security incidents.
Over 60 people were reportedly killed during an armed attack in Masteri Village, Beida locality, on 25 July.
— UN OCHA Sudan (@UNOCHA_Sudan) July 26, 2020
Last week, local authorities in West Darfur declared a 24-hour curfew in Geneina, compromising access to nutrition, water and sanitation, education, health and other critical services, OCHA said.
The clashes came in the middle of the agricultural season, increasing humanitarian needs in the region.
About 2.8 million people in the Darfur region are estimated to be severely food insecure between June and September, more than 545,000 of them in West Darfur alone, OCHA said.
Threat to democratic transition
Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow longtime leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
A military-civilian government now rules the country until elections, possibly in late 2022, are held.
Such clashes pose a challenge to government efforts to end decades-long rebellions in areas like Darfur, where most people live in camps for the displaced and refugees.
Darfur has been devastated since 2003 by a conflict between ethnic minority rebels and forces loyal to al-Bashir, including the government-backed militia known as the Janjaweed, mainly recruited from Arab pastoralist tribes.
A government scorched-earth campaign to crush the rebels killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.
Violence in Darfur has eased since al-Bashir’s removal by the army amid mass protests against his rule last year.
The government and a coalition of nine rebel groups, including factions from the region, signed a preliminary peace deal in January this year.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in the conflict.
The new interim government is currently negotiating with several rebel groups from Darfur and other troubled regions in the country to achieve long-term peace.