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Sudan unrest: The view from Darfur

‘International media are focusing on Khartoum, but rights violations are also happening here.’

View of a displacement camp in Darfur. Philip Kleinfeld/TNH
Sudan’s fighting has spread to restive Darfur, which many fear could bear the brunt of future violence. Pictured here is one of many displacement camps dotted across the western region.

Fighting between Sudan’s army and the country’s main paramilitary force for control of the capital, Khartoum, has entered its fifth day. But battles are also raging in the long-restive western Darfur region, deepening an already acute humanitarian and security crisis.


On 18 April, The New Humanitarian spoke with contributor Ahmed Gouja. He is a Darfuri human rights monitor and journalist who has been documenting heavy fighting in his hometown of Nyala, the main city in South Darfur, one of five states in the region.


”International media are focusing on Khartoum, but the problems regarding the humanitarian situation and rights violations are also happening here,” Gouja said. “A lot of people lack access to basic needs [such as] water. We don’t even talk about medicine.”


Gouja said dozens of people have been caught in the crossfire in Nyala and other parts of Darfur as clashes between the two heavily armed sides occur in the centre of major towns, and that civilians hiding in their homes are running out of supplies. 


Gouja added that members of the paramilitary group – the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – have been looting houses and public buildings in Nyala. Humanitarian offices have also been plundered, and aid workers have been killed in North Darfur.


“We are depending on humanitarian assistance from international organisations,” Gouja said. “But these organisations have been seriously affected and have stopped delivering to many displacement camps around Darfur.”


The nationwide fighting – which has left at least 185 people dead – was triggered by plans to integrate the RSF into the army. The army wanted to merge the two forces over the next two years while the RSF – which has up to 100,000 fighters – wanted a longer timeline.


Darfur is the stronghold of the RSF – which is led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti – and many analysts and Sudanese civil society groups fear the region will bear the brunt of the conflict should it continue.


The group evolved out of the Darfuri Arab militias – known as the Janjaweed – created by the government in the early 2000s to crush Darfur’s non-Arab rebel groups. The militias were accused of genocide, and many of their victims remain displaced in Darfur.


Darfuri rebel groups that have traditionally opposed the RSF are still active in the region and could be drawn into the new conflict. Rights groups also fear that local Arab communities with RSF ties may use the situation to settle scores against other communities.


If the RSF is defeated in the battle for Khartoum, Gouja said he fears its fighters may withdraw to Darfur. “They will get back to Darfur, they will punish civilians, they will try to control Darfur states, and that is going to be a new cause of war.”


Click on the video below to listen to a full interview with Gouja, read our archival coverage of Darfur, and check back soon for a deeper analysis of what the new conflict could mean for the long-suffering region.


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