The conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region escalated in 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) principally, took up arms, accusing the government of neglecting the region.
The areas of Northern, Southern and Western Darfur, along Sudan's border with Chad, are home to about a quarter of the 25 million pastoral, mostly nomadic, Arabic-speaking communities and African groups - mainly the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawah.
As a response to the insurgency, the government is alleged to have armed Arab Janjaweed militias. The government denies arming Arab militias, but the militias are accused of attacking, raping and pillaging Darfur's black communities.
There are now fewer deaths from the conflict compared with the peak in the fighting, 2003-2004, but it has mutated and the confrontations multiplied. Groups such as JEM have since splintered.
Fragmentation has also led to in-fighting and a divided stance during negotiations. In May 2008, JEM launched an unprecedented assault on the Northern capital, Khartoum, and warned of further attacks.
In April 2007, the ICC issued arrest warrants for a government minister, Ahmed Harun, and a Janjaweed commander, Ali Kushayb, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. The two have yet to be handed over for prosecution.
Meanwhile, violence continued, prompting the ICC on 14 July 2008 to apply for a warrant of arrest for President Omar el-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
According to the UN, at least 4.7 million people have been affected by the conflict with about half displaced. An estimated 300,000 people are believed to have died.
A peace agreement was signed by the government and one SLA/M faction (led by Minni Minnawi, SLA/MM) in May 2006, but was undermined by the absence of other parties, including JEM.
Critics say the devastating attacks in Darfur, in which mainly the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawah have been targeted, have left civilians killed, forced off their land, abducted and raped.
Militia activities have continued despite the 2004 deployment of the African Union Mission in Sudan. A combined UN-African Union peacekeeping force began deploying in 2008, taking over from the small, overstretched AU force, but it has yet to stop the violence.
Talks between parties to the conflict, including ongoing dialogue between the government and JEM in Doha, Qatar, have yet to bear fruit.
The conflict has, over the years, severely curtailed efforts to deliver adequate humanitarian aid to Darfurians. Aid workers have been killed, vehicles stolen and delivery of food hampered by violence.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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