ICC voices alarm over fighting in Sudan's El Fasher as RSF gains ground

Prosecutor Karim Khan says there is mounting evidence of crimes against civilians, as the UN estimates the number of displaced at more than 10 million

A fire rages in a market area in El Fasher, the capital of Sudan's North Darfur state. The Sudanese conflict has continued for 14 months. AFP
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The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces are slowly advancing in the city of El Fasher, in Sudan’s Darfur region, after weeks of street battles against the army and its allies that prompted the International Criminal Court to issue a warning on Tuesday.

The RSF, which has been fighting against the army since April last year, advanced in the city’s eastern and north-eastern districts. More recently, the RSF made inroads in the south, residents said.

The group has faced resistance from former rebels allied with the army. Its fighters, as well as civilians, have also been the targets of the army’s air strikes, the RSF said.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has accused RSF fighters of looting El Fasher’s main South Hospital on Sunday, as well as firing shots at medical staff and patients. The hospital closed and there were no reports of casualties.

El Fasher in North Darfur is the only one of the region’s four provincial capitals that is not yet controlled by the RSF. Its fall would constitute a turning point in the war that has raged for about 14 months.

The city, an aid centre for a region on the brink of famine, is defended by the army’s 6th Infantry Division and allied former rebels. Its only airport remains under the control of the army, which has resorted to delivering supplies to the local garrison and allies by plane due to the RSF’s siege of the city.

The army has also delivered essential medical supplies to residents.

El Fasher has been the site of fierce fighting since May 10, with at least 192 killed and more than 1,200 wounded, the MSF said. About 150,000 people have fled the city.

Hundreds of new graves have been discovered in analysis of satellite images by Yale University’s Humanitarian Research Lab.

On Tuesday, the ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan voiced concern about the violence raging in Darfur, urging witnesses to send his office evidence to aid an investigation.

“I am extremely concerned about allegations of widespread international crimes being committed in El Fasher and its surrounding areas,” Mr Khan said.

Evidence already collected “seems to show credible, repeated, expanding, continuous allegations of attacks against the civilian population”, he warned.

Mr Khan said there was also evidence to suggest “the widespread, prevalent use of rape and other forms of sexual violence” and attacks against hospitals.

“It is an outrage that we are allowing history to repeat itself once again in Darfur,” said the prosecutor, alluding to the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s. That violence left 300,000 dead and displaced another 2.5 million, the UN said.

“We cannot and we must not allow Darfur to become the world's forgotten atrocity, once again,” said Mr Khan.

Both sides in the Sudan war have been accused of war crimes, including deliberately killing civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid.

The RSF’s forerunner, a militia known as the Janjaweed, stands accused of war crimes in Darfur during the conflict in the 2000s, as well as the current war.

The ICC is already investigating accusations that RSF fighters and allied militiamen last summer killed thousands from the ethnic African tribe of Masalit in western Darfur. Tens of thousands have fled to neighbouring Chad.

Last week there were reports RSF fighters killed up to 200 people in a village in the central province of Al Gezira, south of the capital Khartoum. Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan has vowed revenge.

The war in Sudan has killed tens of thousands and created the world’s worst case of displacement. More than 10 million people now live away from their homes, including about three million displaced before the war began in April last year.

Another two million people have been forced to flee the country, mostly to neighbouring Chad, South Sudan and Egypt, said Mohammedali Abunajela, an official for the UN's International Organisation for Migration.

“Imagine a city the size of London being displaced. That’s what it’s like, but it’s happening with the constant threat of crossfire, with famine, disease and brutal ethnic and gender-based violence,” IOM director general Amy Pope said.

Updated: June 11, 2024, 1:01 PM