As many as 2,000 reported dead in West Darfur violence

The remains of a camp for displaced people near El Geneina after attacks in mid-May (Ayin)

EL GENEINA / EL FASHER – May 16, 2023

Residents of El Geneina reported more heavy gunfire and artillery fired at residential areas and mosques yesterday, forcing more people to flee. Over 2,000 people might have died in El Geneina in the past violent weeks. Darfur regional authorities held a meeting to discuss the situation.

A new attack on the town was launched on Friday and at least 280 people were killed in the violence that followed according to the Sudan Doctors Union, but El Geneina has been witnessing horrific violence for the past three weeks. The situation has been labelled ‘extremely dangerous’.

The Sudanese Doctors’ Union explained on Sunday that “armed men wearing Rapid Support Forces [RSF] uniforms invaded the city on vehicles and motorcycles, and fierce battles took place between these forces and armed groups made up of the city’s residents which led to hundreds of casualties among civilians”.

According to the Sudanese Women of Change organisation, the attacks on the capital of West Darfur, “which have been ongoing for 21 days now”, have claimed at least 2,000 lives and injured thousands of others.

People in the city lament that these attacks are happening in the complete absence of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) “whose job it is to protect citizens” and who are reportedly present at their army bases but refuse to intervene.

The Women of Change organisation wrote on social media that a “Rwanda genocide scenario is happening now” in El Geneina “and the world is just watching”. “The voiceless people of El Geneina need help urgently, it’s now or never.”

‘Rwanda genocide scenario is happening now in El Geneina […] and the world is just watching’

Sudanese Women of Change

A medical source told Sudanese news outlet Ayin, however, that there are no accurate estimates on the number of dead or injured because it is impossible to make field assessments due to the ongoing insecurity.

Hundreds of dead and wounded were not counted after previous attacks in the town since the eruption of violence between the RSF and SAF.

With no medical facilities open since 24 April, an escalating death rate is all too possible, the same source claimed.

El Geneina residents said the most recent attacks have taken place across the city including El Buheira, El Sawra, El Tadamon, El Majlis, and El Madaris neighbourhoods.

Since April 24, the city has also been without power, water, or healthcare, contributing to a severe humanitarian crisis.

A damaged mosque in El Geneina (social media)

Intercommunal dimensions

There are growing concerns that the fighting is taking on an intercommunal dimension, reviving the tribal and political tensions that underpinned the 2003 Darfur civil war and subsequent genocide.

The RSF* have in the past been predominantly recruited from the Rizeigat Arab herding tribe, which RSF Commander Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo hails from, and many of the displaced people in West Darfur are from the Masalit, a non-Arab African farming tribe.

Yet, the Dar Masalit Union explained earlier that the attacks carried out by the RSF are not tribal conflicts. “The social components in West Darfur have lived in harmony and solidarity,” its statement read, and it explained that the RSF attacks are a continuation of previous Janjaweed* attacks.

Darfur meeting

Because of the complicated situation, native administration (tribal) leaders have an important role to play in finding a lasting agreement on peaceful coexistence.

The governor of the Darfur region, Minni Minawi, who recently returned to Darfur, held a meeting in the North Darfur capital El Fasher yesterday to discuss the security situation in the region with the governors of the five Darfur states and a number of native administration leaders**.

The meeting concluded with the following recommendations for the Darfur regional authorities:

1. Send a delegation for an urgent visit to West Darfur. The delegation is to be accompanied by medics, native administration leaders, and local organisations.

2. Call on UNITAMS to send medicines and tents from Port Sudan to El Fasher or Nyala.

3. Call on neighbouring countries to open up borders to give injured access to treatment and allow international organisations to bring in humanitarian aid.

4. Form a common trade chamber for Darfur and collaborate with the Libyan chamber of trade to open up border trading.

5. Form a committee to promote peaceful coexistence in Darfur.

6. Prepare for the upcoming agricultural season.

7. Send official and popular delegations to Libya, Chad, and South Sudan to strengthen relations.

8. Form a joint task force consisting of rebel combatants, policemen, delegates from the prosecutor’s office, and others to restore law and order.

9. Appoint Sultan Salah Adam as head of the Native Administration in Darfur and activate the role of the Native Administration in the Darfur regional government.

10. Secure all roads and highways in Darfur, including roads to the neighbouring countries, and rid them of bandits, thieves, and all those taking advantage of the war to incite violence and looting.

Darfur governor Minawi recently ordered his troops to back Darfur without saying where exactly or why.

* The RSF were established by the Al Bashir regime in August 2013 and grew out of the janjaweed militant groups which fought for the Sudanese government in Darfur since the war broke out in 2003 and were largely made up of Arab herding tribes. The janjaweed are held responsible for the genocide against Darfuri farmers and other non-Arab/African groups. The RSF is believed to be responsible for atrocities in the Kordofan and Darfur regions in the past years and is also widely condemned for their role in the October 25 military coup and subsequent violence against pro-democracy protesters. 

** The Native Administration was instituted by British colonial authorities seeking a pragmatic system of governance that allowed for effective control with limited investment and oversight by the state. The Native Administration also took on new responsibilities for executing policies, collecting taxes, and mobilising labour on behalf of Khartoum. According to the Darfur Bar Association (DBA), the regime of Omar Al Bashir only selected and appointed tribal leaders who supported the government.