The death toll from days of fighting between rival Arab tribes in Sudan's South Darfur State has risen to 120 as violence continued on Monday in the turbulent region, local officials said.
Violence in Darfur has left hundreds dead and forced tens of thousands from their homes since April 15, when fighting broke out in the Sudanese capital between the army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, formed from the Darfur-based Janjaweed militia.
Violence in the region has traditionally pitted Arab tribesmen against ethnic Africans in a rivalry mostly over land, pastures and water, though the latest clashes took place between an Arab tribe allied with the RSF – Al Salamat – and the Bani Halba, whose members refuse to take sides.
Officials said the death toll from the violence, which is centred in the provincial capital Nyala and nearby localities, has risen to 120, in addition to hundreds injured. The casualties include those killed or injured by the exchange of artillery shelling between the army and the RSF in Nyala.
The casualty figures could not be independently verified.
Homes, businesses and state installations have been torched and thousands of civilians forced to flee, according to officials. RSF fighters have meanwhile stormed homes in Nyala, looting their contents and stealing cars.
Clashes between the Sudanese army and the RSF have flared periodically in Nyala.
The Sudan conflict spread to Darfur in the early stages of the war, peaking in June when RSF fighters and allied Arab militias launched attacks against members of the ethnic African Masalit tribe in the town of Al Geneina, killing hundreds and forcing tens of thousands to flee to neighbouring Chad.
The International Criminal Court has said it was investigating whether war crimes had been committed in Darfur by the RSF and allied Arab militias.
At least 358,000 refugees have arrived in the town of Adre, across Sudan's border with Chad, since the start of the conflict, according to Doctors Without Borders.
The charity said “shelter and basic facilities available in the camps are wholly inadequate to meet the needs of the incoming people”. As a result, the refugees are exposed to harsh sun and rain, with “insufficient food, water and even cooking supplies”, said Susanna Borges, MSF's emergency co-ordinator in Chad.
The latest bout of violence will only compound the woes of Sudanese finding refuge in Chad.
The UN mission in Sudan said last week it was “gravely concerned” by the effects on civilians from fighting between the RSF and the army in Darfur.
“This is deeply worrying and could quickly engulf the country in a prolonged ethnic conflict with regional spillovers,” said Martha Pobee, assistant UN secretary general in charge of Africa.
Darfur was the site of a ruinous civil war in the 2000s that killed 300,000 and displaced 2.5 million, according to UN figures.
The Janjaweed militia fought on the government's side in that war, which began when ethnic Africans took up arms to end discrimination by the ruling elite in the Arab and mainly Muslim north of Sudan.
The army has mostly stood by and watched since violence spilt over into Darfur, where the roots of conflict between Arab and African tribes were never addressed after a peace deal between the military and several Darfur rebel groups was signed in October 2020.
Sudan's continuing conflict has had an effect on the vast Afro-Arab country not dissimilar to the earlier war in Darfur.
Essentially a fight for military and political domination between two rival generals – army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and RSF commander Gen Mohammed Dagalo – the conflict has forced more than four million people from their homes, including about one million who crossed into neighbouring nations.
The fighting has also created a humanitarian crisis, with more than 20 million people now facing a “high level of food insecurity”, according to the UN.
Last month, the world body warned that the violence in Darfur had the potential to develop into a full-fledged civil war enveloping vast parts of the country as well as destabilising the region.
The US and Saudi Arabia, which jointly sought to mediate a truce, have said neither side appears willing to end the war.
RSF leaders, including Gen Dagalo, claim that the paramilitary is an embodiment of the struggle of marginalised Sudanese living in outlying regions in Darfur to gain equality with the affluence north of Sudan and its political and economic elite.
They have, since the start of the war in April, also claimed to be fighting the army on behalf of the Sudanese people and to secure democracy.
Gen Al Burhan, however, said on Monday in an address to the nation that the RSF has committed “every imaginable crime” since the start of the war, including rape, looting and torture, and that it was working to destroy Sudan's identity and heritage.