Violence on the up in Darfur

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Escalating violence in Sudan’s Darfur has sparked fears of a repeat of atrocities committed two decades ago in the region the United Nations (UN) refugee agency UNHCR said.

More than 800 people were reportedly killed by armed groups in Ardamata, West Darfur, an area so far less affected by the conflict that started in April.

Ardamata housed a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) with a 100 shelters razed, while extensive looting – including UN relief items – also took place.

Two decades ago, thousands were killed across Darfur and millions displaced in fighting between Sudanese government forces backed by allied militia known as the Janjaweed on one side, and rebel groups resisting the autocratic rule of President Omar al-Bashir, ousted in 2019.

UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, warned in June if fighting in West Darfur continued, including attacks based on ethnicity, it could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The UN refugee agency is alarmed over reports of continued sexual violence, torture, arbitrary killings, extortion of civilians and targeting of specific ethnic groups.

“Twenty years ago, the world was shocked by atrocities and human rights violations in Darfur. We fear a similar dynamic might be developing,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said.

“An immediate end to fighting and unconditional respect for the civilian population by all parties are crucial to avoid another catastrophe,” he added.

Close to five million people were displaced in Sudan since fighting broke out in mid-April between the army and the paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). A further 1.2 million sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

UNHCR reports more than eight thousand people fled to Chad in the last week alone. This is likely to be an underestimate due to challenges registering new arrivals.

The agency and partners are working with the Chadian government to prepare for more refugees entering the country.