UN 'appalled' as more than 200 killed in fighting in Sudan's Darfur

Conflict has led to hospitals being attacked, a police station destroyed and a market burnt to the ground

Fighting in Sudan's troubled Darfur region has killed more than 200 people in recent days, with the UN human rights chief saying she was “appalled” at the spike in violence.

Members of the Massalit community and Arab fighters have clashed since Friday in and around the West Darfur state capital El Geneina in the latest ethnic violence in the vast, arid and impoverished region long awash with guns.

The fighting, which comes as Sudan grapples with the fallout from a coup six months ago led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, has seen hospitals attacked, a police station destroyed and a market burnt to the ground, the UN reported.

At least 213 people have been killed in three days of violence, the official toll from the governor of West Darfur state showed. The clashes have centred on Krink, a locality of about 500,000 people roughly 1,100 kilometres west of Sudan's capital Khartoum.

West Darfur Governor Khamees Abkar called the destruction and death a “massive crime”, noting that 201 people were killed and 103 wounded on Sunday alone, in a video published late on Tuesday.

It is the latest in several rounds of recent intercommunal clashes, pitting the Massalit — largely settled farmers — against semi-nomadic Arab pastoralist groups.

“I am appalled,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Wednesday, demanding “impartial and independent” investigations into the attacks.

“I am concerned that this region continues to see repeated, serious incidents of intercommunal violence, with mass casualties,” she said.

Heavy fighting initially erupted on Friday when at least eight people were killed in the Krink region, with gunmen attacking Massalit villages in retaliation for the killing of two comrades, said the General Co-ordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur, an independent aid group.

The UN said more than 1,000 armed members of the Arab Rizeigat community then swept into the town.

Many militia fighters in the region are heavily armed, often driving pickup trucks with mounted machine guns.

Krink town “was completely destroyed including government institutions”, Mr Abkar said.

“It is a crime against humanity.”

The governor lashed out at government forces given the task of securing Krink and its environs for “withdrawing without any justification” as the main attacks began early on Sunday.

The UN humanitarian agency Ocha, quoting local sources, said that the police station in Krink was set on fire, the hospital attacked and the market was “looted and burnt".

Food aid for more than 60,000 people by the UN's World Food Programme have been suspended.

“Nearby villages have also been attacked,” the UN added.

Malnourished children are fed at the Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) (Doctors without Borders) the French medical charity, nutrition centre 21 June 2004 in the Mornay camp, in western Darfur, Sudan. More than 80,000 displaced people reached this town to try to escape ethnic violence in the Darfur region. After surviving massacres carried out by pro-government militias on their villages, these refugees are now virtual prisoners in the camp as the same militias now control the camp's periphery conducting violent attacks and rapes on villagers who go out looking for food and essential items according to MSF. AFP PHOTO/MARCO LONGARI (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

Fighting on Monday spread to the state capital El Geneina, where more deaths were reported.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Tuesday that several medical workers were killed in the fighting when hospitals were attacked.

“MSF teams have not been able to reach the health facilities we support nor conduct mobile clinic activities,” the aid group said in a statement.

Conflict in Darfur erupted in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms, complaining of discrimination by the Arab-dominated government of former president Omar Al Bashir.

Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, mainly recruited from Arab pastoralist tribes, who were blamed for atrocities including murder, rape, looting and burning villages.

The scorched-earth campaign left 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million, UN figures show.

While the main rebel groups signed a 2020 peace deal, deadly clashes still erupt over land and livestock, as well as access to water and grazing.

In the most recent fighting, witnesses have accused the Janjaweed militia of orchestrating the violence.

Rights groups say many of the Janjaweed's members were integrated into the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, now de facto deputy leader of Sudan.

The Darfur Bar Association, a local civil society group, has called on the UN Security Council to help stem the violence in a statement condemning the “arbitrary killing of children, women and the elderly".

At the request of the Sudanese government, a joint UN and African Union mission, Unamid, ended 13 years of peacekeeping operations in December 2020.

Updated: April 27, 2022, 7:19 PM