North Darfur civilians flee ‘catastrophic escalation’ in conflict

Displaced women and children in Zamzam camp near El Fasher, North Darfur (File photo: UNAMID))

A new wave of mass casualties and displacement of civilians is occurring in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, amid intensified conflict. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continue heavy shelling. Targets include the Abu Shouk camp for displaced people on Wednesday, leading to numerous civilian casualties. The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have responded by more bombing, placing civilians at greater risk. Despite claims by local officials that the situation is under control, the conditions remain dire, with calls for international intervention to prevent a further catastrophic escalation.

The RSF shelled neighbourhoods and the Abu Shouk camp in the north on Wednesday, SAF and allied rebel forces retaliated by bombing RSF sites outside the city. The RSF specifically targeted the Abu Shouk camp for displaced people with rockets, causing a mass exodus. About 60 per cent of the camp’s inhabitants – most of whom were displaced, some several times over, from their homes by earlier conflicts, fled on Thursday. The growing violence is reflected through one of the city’s emergency response rooms, which reported on Facebook that two people were killed by stray bullets in the Naivasha Market.

On Friday, dozens more were injured by the ongoing RSF shelling. A resident told Radio Dabanga that the RSF shelled several sites in the city, with one missile hitting the Tawila shelter centre, causing many injuries among the displaced, and another missile injuring several children in a southern shelter centre.

‘The situation has become unbearable… we are all living in a state of terror…’

“The situation has become unbearable with the ongoing battles and continuous bombing and shelling,” the resident said. “We are all living in a state of terror and fear of being hit by shells.” About 2.8 million people live in El Fasher, including 800,000 displaced people. Those who can flee the intensified battles are leaving, while others are trapped between the warring parties.

In his speech to the UN Security Council on Thursday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the situation in Sudan, particularly the increasing hostilities in El Fasher, as “a worsening humanitarian nightmare”.

The Darfur regional government held an emergency meeting in Port Sudan on Thursday to discuss the situation in the region, especially in El Fasher. The Council of Ministers, acting governors of the five Darfur states, humanitarian aid commissioners, and relevant directors attended the meeting. Governor-designate of the Darfur Region, Babiker Hamdeen, condemned the RSF siege of El Fasher and appealed to the international community to not remain silent on “these serious crimes and the collective punishment” of the population through starvation. The North Darfur finance minister claims the security situation in North Darfur is “under complete control,” stressing the readiness of all forces to protect the city and defeat the RSF.

El Fasher is the last of the five Darfur state capitals not under RSF control. Residents fear that full RSF control of the city could ignite strife between the Arab tribes supporting the RSF and the Zaghawa tribe, from which most fighters of the North Darfur rebel forces hail. Zaghawa leaders have allegedly contacted Chadian President Mahamet Deby, also a Zaghawa, asking him to intervene to prevent a “catastrophic bloodbath” in the area.

The UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide briefed the Security Council on Wednesday about the ongoing armed conflict between the RSF and SAF, warning that the situation “bears all the marks of risk of genocide, with strong allegations that this crime has already been committed”.