When war engulfed Sudan’s capital last month, it quickly spread to the western Darfur region, reigniting an old conflict and sending a wave of refugees over the border into Chad.
Escalation of Violence: Conflict Spreads from Sudan’s Capital to Darfur:
Nasr Abdullahi sent his wife, sister, and five children to Chad last week, staying behind to wait for news of a 17-year-old son in the capital Khartoum. But when his neighbor’s house was burned down and gangs took over the streets, he fled too.
“I couldn’t take it anymore, so I decided to leave on foot,” the 42-year-old said after arriving exhausted on Wednesday in the Chadian town of Adre, about 27km (17 miles) from El Geneina, the main city in West Darfur State. “I crossed through the bush and walked west all night.”
Humanitarian Emergency Unfolds:
Residents link the resurgence of violence in El Geneina and other parts of Darfur to the power struggle between Sudan’s army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum, which has allowed militias in the area to go unchecked. The RSF denies instigating violence in Darfur, instead blaming the army.
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The attacks in El Geneina have razed its markets, power grid, and medical facilities, witnesses say, reviving memories of the atrocious violence that erupted in the early 2000s. Sudan’s health ministry says up to 510 people have been killed in the city of about half a million. At least 250,000 people in West Darfur have been internally displaced while another 90,000 have fled to Chad.
Root Causes and Devastating Impact:
With El Geneina’s communications now cut off, Abdullahi’s account offered a rare glimpse of the chaos. “Heavy weapons and machine guns are being fired everywhere. When you go out in the morning, you see new bullet holes in the walls,” he said, adding that water supplies were cut and food was running scarce in the city he left.
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The feared Janjaweed militias first gained power as the government used them against rebels in Darfur two decades ago, resulting in the deaths of more than 300,000 people and displacement of 2.5 million. The RSF emerged from them and grew into a large paramilitary force with legal status. Its commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, became deputy head of Sudan’s ruling council after helping topple former leader Omar al-Bashir during a popular uprising in 2019.
Though conflict in Darfur is often described along ethnic lines, pitting Arab tribes against non-Arabs, it is also rooted in a struggle for land, intensified by climate change. “This is between the herder and the farmer. It’s about resources and land,” said Sultan Saad Bahreldin, leader of the Masalit tribe, the largest bloc of El Geneina residents.
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