With Darfur in its sights, paramilitary group is accused of atrocities | ET REALITY

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Bodies littered the road leading out of El Geneina, a town in western Sudan, as Dr. Rodwan Mustafa and his family sped down a bumpy road leading to the border with Chad and, they hoped, safety.

A day earlier, angry Arab militiamen had grabbed Dr. Mustafa by the throat, accusing him of providing medical care to enemy fighters. That was his signal to run.

As he rushed toward the border with his family in a car, he saw chickens clucking over the bloody corpses of those who had not fled in time. A camp for displaced people was empty, burned to the ground. He saw a dismembered hand on the side of the road.

“The smell of death was everywhere,” said Dr. Mustafa, who arrived at a refugee camp in Chad and spoke by phone from there.

Seven months after Sudan’s disastrous civil war, new horrors have accompanied the latest fighting in Darfur, a vast region in the west of the country where a powerful paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, has achieved a succession of overwhelming victories over the army. regular from Sudan in recent weeks.

After capturing three of Darfur’s five state capitals, including El Geneina, on Nov. 4, the paramilitary group is poised to take over the entire region, according to residents, analysts and United Nations officials interviewed in recent days.

Although that tilts the war in favor of the paramilitary group’s commander, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, neither side appears capable of achieving an outright victory, according to African and Western officials, a stalemate that has deepened civilian suffering. RSF’s recent victories have also come at the cost of ethnic violence reminiscent of the genocidal massacres that brought global attention to Darfur just over two decades ago.

Earlier this month, more than 800 people were killed when RSF and allied Arab fighters overran the army garrison in El Geneina, according to the united nations refugee agency. Homes were razed and United Nations supplies looted, the agency said. Sudanese soldiers on the run fled across the border into Chadtransporting ammunition supplies.

Aid workers and witnesses also reported sexual violence, torture, and killings of members of the Masalit, an African ethnic group with a long history of conflict with ethnic Arabs.

“They came to massacre us,” said Ahmed Sharif, a schoolteacher who fled El Geneina on Nov. 5 and walked 13 hours to reach Chad.

Filippo Grandi, director of the United Nations Refugee Agency, said: “Twenty years ago, the world was shocked by the terrible atrocities in Darfur. “We fear a similar dynamic is developing.”

The dire situation is not yet a complete repeat of that of the early 2000s, when scorched-earth tactics by Arab militias prompted the International Criminal Court to bring genocide charges against Sudanese leaders, including former president Omar Hassan al -Bashir, who was deposed in 2019.

This time, diplomats and analysts say, the ethnic violence is more a byproduct of the nationwide battle between forces loyal to army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Gen. Hamdan than a coordinated campaign of killing.

RSF wants to present itself as a responsible group that could one day govern Sudan. In an emailed response to questions, he blamed Sudan’s military for the recent deaths in El Geneina, accusing it of shelling civilian neighborhoods. A formal investigation into possible abuses is underway, the group said.

But promises of transparency from a paramilitary group that emerged from the feared militias known as Janjaweed that terrorized Darfur in the 2000s are viewed with widespread skepticism. Privately, RSF officials admitted that undisciplined fighters had committed abuses, diplomats say. And in July, the International Criminal Court opened a new investigation into possible war crimes in Darfur.

Still, the dynamic could change quickly if other armed groups in Darfur, currently undecided, decide to join the fray.

After months of hard-fought battle in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, where fighting first broke out in April, the Rapid Support Forces have refocused on Darfur, the region where most of the group’s fighters originate. He captured in quick succession Nyala, Sudan’s second largest city, Zalingei in Central Darfur and El Geneina.

Now, the battle continues in El Fasher, the army’s last stronghold in Darfur. If that falls, experts say, most of Sudan west of the Nile will be in RSF hands.

“The Fasher is the last big domino that hasn’t fallen yet,” said Alan Boswell, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

The outcome of the battle depends in part on decisions made by Minni Minnawi, the regional governor of Darfur, whose armed forces are concentrated around El Fasher. Until now, they have avoided taking sides in the war. And although Minnawi is an old rival of RSF, many doubt that his fighters have the strength to confront the paramilitary group now.

“Fighting seems like a bad proposition for them,” Boswell said.

The changes highlight how much ground Sudan’s army, long considered the backbone of the state, has lost in this war. Unable to expel the RSF from Khartoum, the military has been forced to move most government functions to Port Sudan on the Red Sea in the country’s far east. Aid groups and UN missions also work from there.

International efforts to negotiate a ceasefire, led by the United States and Saudi Arabia, have failed to reach an agreement. The latest talks last week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, produced little. And the humanitarian cost is increasing.

Until now, at least 10,400 people have diedmainly in Khartoum and Darfur, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, although Sudanese health workers say the actual number of victims is likely much higher.

Nearly five million people (about a tenth of Sudan’s population) have been internally displaced and Another 1.2 million have fled to neighboring countries.mainly Chad, South Sudan and Egypt.

Half of Sudan’s 46 million people need help to survive, UN says.

A handful of aid groups have slowly returned to West Darfur in recent months after reaching deals with the RSF and Arab militias. Its employees describe massacres of civilians, dozens of reported rapes, orphaned children and schools filled with refugees.

Will Carter, Sudanese director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, blamed the world for turning its back on Sudan. “The sheer number of deaths, the magnitude of the devastation in Darfur and the lack of attention show how the international system is failing before our eyes,” he said.

Ali Salam, aid coordinator for the Sudanese American Doctors Association, said he had seen “incredible” things during a recent visit to refugee camps in Chad, near the border with Sudan. A woman arrived at a campsite with a dead child strapped to her back, not knowing that the child had died along the way, she said.

“People are dying like insects in Darfur,” he said.

While events in the Middle East worry the United States, which for years has had a major influence in Sudan, there is even less scrutiny of foreign powers accused of fueling Sudan’s war, such as the United Arab Emirates. An investigation showed that the Emiratis are smuggling weapons to General Hamdan from a base in Chad or Egypt, which supports the Sudanese army.

Two decades ago, the cause of peace in Sudan was embraced by Western celebrities and activists who held marches in Washington under the slogan “Save Darfur.” This time, many in Sudan feel that the world has turned its back on them.

“How many more lives will it take for the world to intervene and people to care?” said Omnia Mustafa, a 21-year-old Sudanese woman (not related to Dr. Mustafa) who appealed on TikTok this week to outsiders became aware of the plight of their country.

“I am sick and tired of our suffering falling on deaf ears,” she said. “We are people too, like everyone else.”

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