Local security conflict Event icon
Event title

Sudan - Communal violence and civilian deaths in Sudan fuel fears of widening conflict

Event category

Social incident - Local security conflict

Event date (UTC)

2023-05-12 07:12:06

Last update (UTC)

2024-06-18 21:38:49







Area range

Multiple cities / districts wide event

Address/Affected area(s)


Fighting reported in far south and communal clashes in Darfur, amid power struggle between generals.The deaths of dozens of civilians in fighting in the far south of Sudan and an outbreak of communal violence in the restive Darfur region have fuelled fears that communities across the frontier regions of Africa’s third biggest country are being drawn into the bloody contest between two rival generals.Fighting in the southern state of North Kordofan between militias aligned with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group and local brigades of the Sudanese army has centred on the strategically important state capital, El Obeid.“The two sides went to war and the civilians in the middle got hurt in their houses,” said Hafiz Mohamed, the UK-based director of Justice Africa Sudan, who is from the region.The city sits astride key communications links between Khartoum and Darfur, the home of the RSF leader, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, and many of his fighters. It also has an airstrip, which like others across the country is crucial to the army’s air superiority and therefore a valuable target for the RSF.Medics in El Obeid said the first round of fighting centred on El Abyad neighbourhood, killing 10 people including seven children and wounding more than 20. A local hospital struggled to deal with the influx of injured, facing power cuts as generators ran out of fuel, and a shortage of blood.In a second round of fighting on Sunday, 15 people were killed when the RSF attacked a village south of El Obeid. The paramilitaries’ aim appears to be to secure approaches to the town before launching a more substantial assault, local observers said.“The return of the battles to [Kordofan] increases the scope of the absurd war from the capital, Khartoum,” the Sudanese Medical Association said last week.The nationwide death toll of more than four weeks of fighting stands at 700, though the true figure is almost certainly much higher as many fatalities are going unrecorded, especially in remote areas. Talks between representatives of the army and the RSF in Saudi Arabia are aimed only at securing a temporary ceasefire to allow aid to reach civilians.In Darfur, there is growing evidence that the rivalry between the two factions battling for control of Khartoum is aligning with deep social, economic and ethnic divides.Observers say some of the violence recalls the events of 2003-6, when at least 300,000 people were killed and millions displaced after the then dictator, Omar al-Bashir, deployed fighters mainly recruited from Arab tribes against rebels. The RSF grew out of the Arab militia, which were known as the Janjaweed.In El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, a temporary truce between the RSF and the army led to communal clashes, local activists and others in the town said.A witness said the majority of the clashes in the town were between Janjaweed and Masalit fighters, whom he described as “local armed Africans”. Another source said: “Both parties have withdrawn their security troops outside of the town, but … warfare between Masalit tribesmen and Arab tribesmen has resurfaced, caused by the security vacuum after the two warring sides left.”There has been a spate of attacks on camps housing people displaced by previous violence, most of whom do not identify as Arab, as well as systematic efforts to destroy humanitarian infrastructure.In Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, the biggest market in the region has been destroyed, a medical supply warehouse gutted by fire, and government institutions, private businesses, national and international organisations and some stores looted.“Access to health services is almost impossible because most health centres have been looted or are closed,” said Fihaa Hussein Ahmed, a nutrition and health officer with Mercy Corps, the global humanitarian organisation, who is based in Nyala. “Some hospitals are operational, but the situation on the streets makes it unsafe to reach these facilities.”In a sign that the region could be poised for an escalation in violence, a source close to Mini Arko Minnawi, a rebel leader in Darfur in the 2000s, said fighters loyal to him were heading from the capital to the region to “protect Darfur and the Darfurian people”. Reports have emerged of civilians arming themselves to defend their lives, families and property.Dagalo is from Darfur’s Arab Rizeigat people and rose to prominence with the Janjaweed. His bid to win power over the whole of Sudan in the wake of Bashir’s fall in 2019 has been described as an effort by previously marginalised Arabs to seize the country’s crumbling state and its valuable resources from the dominant elite in Khartoum.Non-Arab populations on the peripheries fear they will be “double losers” in the current conflict, said one Darfur-based activist, who asked for his name to be withheld.Analysts said the battle for Darfur was intense because the region could now provide a vital redoubt for Dagalo if the RSF loses ground elsewhere. The RSF has already invested considerable resources in building up its infrastructure and support in its stronghold.“If the RSF is kicked out of Khartoum, they will likely move back to Darfur to reorganise, replenish and then create havoc in the peripheries,” said Anette Hoffmann, of the Clingendael Institute. “The SAF [army] won’t bother too much about ongoing fighting in the peripheries – they never did – but instead, focus on holding and defending Khartoum.“Should, however, RSF get the upper hand in Khartoum, we will likely see a quick descent into open civil war throughout the country and along ethnic lines. The RSF won’t be able to provide any services to the population under their control. We’ll see even less services, more chaos.”

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