For nearly two months now, thousands of internally displaced people (IDP), fled to shelters at a university building in El Geneina, after armed militiamen on April 4 stormed Abu-Zar camp and burned it down amid a resurgence of violence between members of the region’s Masalit and Arab communities, the capital of Sudan’s West Darfur state.
“You only carry your children and the most important papers and run,” said the 56-year-old, who has already been displaced twice since the beginning of the war in Darfur nearly 20 years ago.
Witnesses accused militias affiliated with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – a paramilitary unit established from the remnants of the former “Janjaweed” militia which is blamed for past atrocities – of attacking the site that hosted some 14,000 people. The flare-up grew out of a shooting that killed two people from the Masalit community, according to the United Nations humanitarian affairs agency, with both sides then mobilising armed men.
“Because of a problem between some people, militiamen attacked so many neighborhoods in Hai al-Jabal first, killing and burning, till they entered Abu-Zar camp,” Hussain told Al Jazeera on the phone. “They came on nine vehicles with their DShK [Russian anti-aircraft weapon] to burn our camp, so we ran away,” she said.
The latest bout of fighting killed at least 130 people and prompted Sudan’s government to declare a state of emergency in the region. It came on the back of waves of violence in and around El Geneina, as well as other parts of Darfur and South Kordofan causing hundreds of deaths. The escalation also forced the UN to suspend all humanitarian activities in El Geneina, an aid-delivery hub, in a decision affecting more than 700,000 people.
Many of the city’s government buildings have now been turned to makeshift hosting sites for IDP fleeing militia attacks on their camps.
According to the UN, in the first four months of this year, some 237,000 people have been newly displaced, almost five times as many people for the whole of 2020.
This coincides with the withdrawal since the start of the year of joint UN-African Union peacekeeping forces (UNAMID), set up in 2007 to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian aid.
The pulling out followed the signing of an ambitious peace deal in October last year between some rebel groups and Sudan’s transitional government in Juba, the capital of neighboring South Sudan. The groups that signed the landmark agreement, most of whom hail from the Zaghawa community in north Darfur, included the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA-MM). JEM’s Gebril Ibrahim has since become Sudan’s finance minister, while SLA-MM’s Mini Minawi has been appointed governor of Darfur.
But an SLA faction led by Abdelwahid Mohamed al-Nour did not sign the deal, which was also widely opposed by the people of the Masalit community who mostly live in West Darfur state.
Meanwhile, there have been complaints over the implementation of the Juba deal, which sets out terms to integrate rebels into the security forces, be politically represented and have economic and land rights, by some of the signatories.