Violence is continuing in Sudan’s West Darfur, leading to hundreds of deaths and a worsening humanitarian crisis. Efforts to reach a cease-fire, including by Saudi Arabia, have failed to achieve a lasting peace between the military and the rebel Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the East African country.
The Preliminary Committee of Sudan's Doctors’ Trade Union said that 280 people were killed on Friday and Saturday alone in the city of Geneina in West Darfur, with an additional 180 injured. The fighting occurred between the RSF and “armed groups from citizens in the city.”
“We mourn the martyrs and regret all the loss of life resulting from the conflict throughout Sudan,” the committee said in a Facebook post.
Background: Fighting between the RSF and the Sudanese armed forces began on April 15. The conflict followed tensions between RSF leader Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti) and Sudan’s de facto ruler, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan. Sudan has been marred by political instability since the ouster of long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019. A transitional government subsequently formed, but Burhan then seized power in a 2021 coup. Several cease-fires have failed to bring an end to hostilities.
The Darfur region as a whole experienced a devastating war from 2003 until 2020. Various groups took part in the conflict, but it was largely fought by the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed militia against rebel groups under the banner of the Sudan Revolutionary Front. The war had an ethnic dimension, as the military and Janjaweed are largely Arabized Sudanese, while the rebels were mainly non-Arab Sudanese, such as the Masalit. The RSF grew out of the Janjaweed militia that fought in Darfur.
The fighting in West Darfur predates the current conflict and goes beyond the RSF and the armed forces. Violence between Arab tribes and the Masalit community has occurred in recent years in West Darfur. Agence France-Presse reported clashes between the two on April 12 — just days before the conflict throughout Sudan began.
The current fighting in Geneina is between Arab tribes from around the city and the Masalit, though the conflict between the armed forces and the RSF gave a “green light” for armed groups to fight in the city, according to one Khartoum-based analyst.
“The conflict is tribal and more than 20 years old. It is caused by land and resources and gets renewed based on political developments,” Hatim Auyoub told Al-Monitor.
Reuters also reported on April 21 that fighting occurred in Geneina between Arab nomads and Masalit farmers. The RSF is aligned with Arab armed groups, while the armed forces support the Masalit.
On Friday, the Sudanese armed forces accused the RSF of bombing civilians in Geneina. On Sunday, the RSF alleged that the armed forces shelled residential neighborhoods in the city, according to separate statements on Twitter.
Why it matters: Much of the international media coverage of the Sudan conflict has focused on violence in the capital, Khartoum. But Geneina has witnessed some of the worst fighting in the country. The Norwegian Refugee Council said on Monday that nearly 200 people were killed in the city in the month of April.
Even before the recent outbreak of violence, Geneina was host to around 100,000 displaced people. The humanitarian situation in the city is now worsening.
“People remain at the mercy of the relentless violence, with settlements once again being reduced to ashes. Trapped civilians have endured three days of incessant shelling, devastating their homes,” it said in a statement. “The residents of Geneina have been stranded within the city, unable to escape, cut off from vital health care and basic necessities. Additionally, electricity and network blackouts have severely hampered communication.”
Geneina is also experiencing widespread looting and property destruction. As a result, patients and personnel have fled the Doctors Without Borders-supported El Geneina Teaching Hospital. Other pharmacies, international organizations and Health Ministry property have also been targeted, the organization said on Sunday.
Know more: Cease-fire talks between the armed forces and the RSF were scheduled to occur in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Fighting continued on Saturday in Khartoum ahead of the talks.