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11 May 2024

Sudan’s military fends off attack by paramilitary forces on major city in Darfur

11 May 2024

Sudan’s military and allied armed groups have staved off an attack by a paramilitary group and Arab militias on a major city in the western region of Darfur, officials and residents said on Saturday.

The attack on Friday was the latest by the Arab-dominated Rapid Support Forces (RSF) against el-Fasher, the provincial capital of North Darfur province, where hundreds of thousands of people are sheltering, many of whom have fled fighting elsewhere in Darfur.

The RSF, which has been at war with the military for more than a year, has built forces up in recent months to wrestle control of el-Fasher, the last city that is still held by the military in the sprawling Darfur region.

Sudan’s conflict began in April last year when soaring tensions between the leaders of the military and the RSF exploded into open fighting in the capital, Khartoum and elsewhere in the country.

The situation is catastrophic. We don’t know when this will end. What’s happening is senseless

The conflict wrecked the country and pushed its population to the brink of famine. It killed more than 14,000 people and wounded thousands more amid reports of widespread sexual violence and other atrocities that rights groups say amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Darfur witnessed some of the worst atrocities in the war, with the RSF taking control of many cities and towns across the region. Human Rights Watch said in a report last week that RSF attacks constituted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population.

The RSF and their allies launched the attack on el-Fasher’s eastern side early on Friday and clashed with military forces and other armed groups defending the city, said resident Amany Mohamed. She said the military and allied forces have repelled the attack.

“Yesterday was a very difficult day,” she said over the phone on Saturday. “There were fierce clashes that lasted for six hours.”

Another resident and an activist, Ibtisam al-Doum, fled with her family to a school-turned-shelter on the southern side of the city during heavy fighting on Friday. She said she saw hundreds of people escaping on foot to safer areas.

“The situation is catastrophic. We don’t know when this will end,” she said, speaking from the Jiser al-Jinan shelter. “What’s happening is senseless.”

The military-led camp and the RSF blamed each other for initiating Friday’s fighting.

Local media reported heavy clashes in parts of the city including its power planet. Footage on social media platforms showed army troops and allied forces celebrating and captured fighters in RSF uniform being paraded in the streets.

The people of Darfur need more food, not more fighting

“Reports of intensifying clashes in the city are deeply alarming,” Martin Griffiths, the UN’s relief chief, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, and called for warning parties to de-escalate.

“The people of Darfur need more food, not more fighting,” he said.

The International Organisation for Migration said the military launched airstrikes on Saturday on the RSF positions in the northern and eastern parts of el-Fasher.

It said Friday’s fighting had forced about 170 households, or about 800 people, from their homes.

The agency said there were reports of civilians killed and wounded in the clashes, without providing a casualty tally.

The Doctors Without Borders humanitarian group, however, said a hospital it supports in the city on Friday received 160 wounded, including 31 women and 19 children.

“Patients continue to reach us in critical conditions and in urgent need of treatment,” it said on Saturday.

The United Nations last month said the RSF had encircled the city and warned an attack would have “devastating consequences” on its 800,000 people.

The RSF and allied Arab militias have launched a series of attacks on el-Fasher and its surroundings in recent weeks, taking several villages on the northern side.

Such attacks “resulted in horrific reports of violence, including sexual violence, children injured and killed, homes set on fire and destruction of critical civilian supplies and infrastructure,” Catherine Russell, executive director of Unicef, said earlier this month.

“The fighting and growing fear of ethnically motivated violence has driven many families to overcrowded displacement camps such as Zamzam camp and informal gathering sites in and around el-Fasher city,” she said.

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