Nearly 200 dead in West Darfur violence: situation ‘extremely dangerous’

The destruction in El Geneina is beyond compare, footage from late April (social media)

EL GENEINA – MAY 1, 2023

Ibrahim Ali Hussein, Sheikh of the Kerending camp for the displaced in El Geneina in West Darfur, told Radio Dabanga yesterday that at least 180 people have been killed in attacks on the city last week. The situation is described as extremely dangerous, and many have already fled to Chad.

Yesterday, a local doctors association estimated the number of dead at 191. Residents of El Geneina reported that big clashes seemed to have stopped in the city, but that looting, killings, and other lawlessness is continuing.

Community leader Ibrahim told Radio Dabanga that at least 178 people were killed and 65 others injured during the attacks on El Geneina last week, but that two more people died of their injuries on Saturday due to the lack of operational healthcare facilities in the city.

There are no health adequate healthcare facilities to attend to the wounded as most had to close down. Wounded are crowding in one facility, Ibrahim explained.

Due to the targeting of medical staff and hospitals, and the general lack of security, Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders/MSF) had to stop most of their activities in West Darfur.

On Saturday, they reported that the El Geneina Teaching Hospital had been looted. In a statement on social media, Deputy Operations Manager for Sudan Sylvain Perron said that “it is utterly unacceptable to see the El Geneina Teaching Hospital and other facilities under attack. We are deeply concerned about the safety of healthcare staff, and our teams in West Darfur.”

“Many people are trapped in the midst of this deadly violence.” He also explained that MSF “teams have not been able to reach the hospital”.

‘Many people are trapped in the midst of this deadly violence’ – Sylvain Perron

“We are incredibly worried about the impact of this violence on people who have lived through waves of violence in previous years.”

An hour ago, MSF reported that it is still supporting facilities in Kereinik to continue to provide medical care. It is also supporting facilities in Rokoro in Central Darfur, Um Rakuba and Tinedba in El Gedaref, and in Ed Damazin in Blue Nile State.

Extremely dangerous

Several residents were killed or injured whilst fetching water and food and there have been reports of rape and gender-based violence, the sheikh said.

On social media, many Sudanese are warning of the “extremely dangerous” situation in El Geneina.

Gathering places have been burnt and attacked. A leader in the Abuzar camp for the displaced reported that gunmen attacked gathering places of the displaced in the city centre and burned them completely, forcing thousands of people to flee across the border to Chad.

Without any police or security forces present in the area, the militiamen “invaded the city market and government institutions in an unprecedented manner,” he told Sudanese news outlet Ayin.

The Assistant Commissioner for Refugees in Darfur, El Farsha Mujib Yagoub, told Radio Dabanga that at least 20 buildings and shelters for the displaced in El Geneina were burned, including the El Zahra Centre, the Sultan Court, the Dar Masalit Centre, and the Ministry of Planning Centre.

The humanitarian situation is extremely complex as there is no shelter or housing and even markets have been burned. Yagoub also reported that a doctor was killed and that there is a severe shortage of medical staff and medicines.

Ayin also spoke with Inaam El Nour, director of Women for Change, who said her home was surrounded by RSF-aligned gunmen who forced her to flee. “They threatened to kill me, I still do not feel safe,” she said. Some of her relatives were killed in front of their home, last Tuesday evening.

Fleeing to Chad

Amidst the violence, waves of refugees continue to travel from El Geneina to the areas south of the Chadian city of Adre. Radio Dabanga reporters in Chad said that the new refugees are located in the villages of Taktakli, Darta, Gidenta, and Denta where they suffer very poor humanitarian conditions.

Assistant Commissioner Yagoub appealed to Chadian President Mahamat Idris Déby and Chairman of the Sovereignty Council and Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) Commander Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan to coordinate to open safe corridors for refugees.

In an interview with Radio Dabanga, Yagoub called on the Chadian forces to intervene to evacuate the wounded from El Geneina.

He said that hundreds of dead and wounded were not counted.

One Sudanese refugee was reportedly killed on his farm in the Farchana camp for the displaced in Chad, between Abeche and El Geneina, last Wednesday.

A Radio Dabanga correspondent said that armed militiamen are gathering on the Sudanese side of the valley.

Clashes not purely ‘tribal’

Clashes already took place in El Geneina on Monday, but intensified in the following days.

According to a statement published by the Dar Masalit Union on Friday, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) launched violent attacks on El Geneina on Thursday morning. “These attacks have resulted in a large number of casualties in residential areas,” the statement read.

“The entire El Geneina market, the state police headquarters, the offices of the General Intelligence Service, the Traffic Police Department, and health facilities were looted” as well as the El Geneina General Hospital “all in the sight and hearing of the Armed Forces represented by the 15th Infantry Division, which has renounced its responsibility to protect innocent civilians”.

The SAF denounced the violence as ‘tribal’. The RSF have in the past been predominantly recruited from the Rizeigat Arab herders tribe which RSF Commander Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo hails from, and many of the displaced people are from the Masalit, a non-Arab African farming tribe.

Yet, the Dar Masalit Union explained 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.

They hold the state institutions “fully responsible” for the killing, burning, and looting in El Geneina.

“People in Darfur can see that they are being set against each other by the militia system which has destroyed their lives for so many years, and is now destroying the lives of people in Khartoum,” analyst Eddie Thomas wrote on Twitter.

Armed civilians

There are various reports that civilians from non-Arab tribes, such as the Masalit, are being armed to counter the RSF attacks.

Local residents have mixed feelings about this new development. Resident Osam Bushara told Ayin that “it is positive since it helped civilians protect their property and lives. However, an increase in armaments also increases violence among civilians. We may see a lot more street warfare”.

‘We may see a lot more street warfare’ – Osman Bushara

“Police armed people so that civilians could protect themselves,” El Nour told the news outlet, but now armed individuals roam the city. “Children are carrying arms.”

In South Darfur capital Nyala, popular initiatives were launched and people armed themselves to protect their neighbourhoods from RSF looting.

* The RSF were established by the Al Bashir regime in August 2013 and grew out of the Janjaweed militias 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 widely 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.