It was a cattle theft which, as so many times in the past in the Sudanese province, triggered bloody conflicts. The peasants of the Massalit people accused the Arab nomads of driving away their cattle and in revenge killed two of the nomads. As a result, they attacked the villages of Massalit last weekend. The clashes spread rapidly and are said to have claimed 168 lives and around 100 injured.
The conflict in the provinces of Darfur, largely resolved during Sudan’s failed democratization, is reigniting. The violence spread Monday in the provincial capital, El Geneina. An MSF-supported hospital was also attacked there. The humanitarian organization said there was a shooting in the clinic’s emergency room.
A hospital employee was killed. Doctors warned of a catastrophic health situation in West Darfur. According to her, several hospitals were attacked in the course of the violence. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called on the authorities to ensure the transport of the wounded to hospitals in the region.
The fighting brings to mind the 2003 genocide
The incidents recall 2003, when a civil war broke out in the provinces of Darfur between the Arab and African populations. The main problem of the conflict was access to resources in the driest Sahel region, water sources and pastures. At the time, the cavalry militias supported by the Khartoum government were accused of committing genocide in Darfur.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of genocide. According to the United Nations, more than 300,000 people lost their lives in the civil war and around 2.5 million people are internally displaced. After the Khartoum revolution, which led to al-Bashir prison three years ago, tensions in the Darfur provinces initially eased.
The private army has nearly 100,000 fighters
The UN withdrew the last UN peacekeepers in the middle of last year. Darfur rebel groups had signed a peace treaty with the Sudanese interim government in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Surprisingly, this came not least at the instigation of former “Janjawid” commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The “Janjawid” mounted militia is largely made up of Bedouin and other nomadic groups. Since 2003 it has been they who have aggravated the conflicts in the region. Hemeti was considered one of al Bashir’s closest allies, but during the revolution he turned his back on his protector. The militia leader had drawn considerable wealth from the illegal exploitation of gold fields in the provinces of Darfur.
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With him he built the strongest private army in the country: the infamous Rapid Support Force (RSF) of nearly 100,000 men. Hemeti has repeatedly made them available to foreign powers for a fee. She fought on the Saudi side in the Yemen war and was involved in the Libyan war on Khalifa Haftar’s side. The “Janjaweed” are also believed to have close ties to the rebels in Chad.
The coup puts an end to Sudanese democratization
After the fall of al Bashir, Hemeti became the second most powerful man in the army. He is said to have an ambition to force coup general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to leave office. By signing the peace treaty in Juba, Hemeti had managed to conquer his former mortal enemies, the African rebel movements in Darfur.
They feared being marginalized by a democratically elected government in the capital, Khartoum. They even supported last October’s military coup that ended Sudan’s democratic transition. The rebels will now regret this decision, because since the coup, Sudan has increasingly slipped into a crisis that, according to experts, could lead to hunger riots. What’s happening now may just be the beginning.