Sudan war death toll surges past 2,000 as fighting enters third month

Sudan’s devastating war raged on into a third month Thursday as the reported death toll topped 2,000 and after a state governor was killed in the remote Darfur region.

Since April 15, the regular army headed by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has been locked in fighting with paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commanded by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

The fighting has driven 2.2 million people from their homes, including 528,000 who have fled to neighbouring countries, according to the International Organization for Migration.

“In our worst expectations, we didn’t see this war dragging on for this long,” said Mohamad al-Hassan Othman, one of more than a million civilians who have fled heavy fighting in the capital Khartoum.

Everything in “our life has changed”, he told AFP. “We don’t know whether we’ll be back home or need to start a new life.”

The death toll has risen above 2,000, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project’s latest figures, which cover fighting until June 9.

In long-troubled West Darfur state, the violence claimed the life of Governor Khamis Abdullah Abakar, hours after he made remarks critical of the paramilitaries in a telephone interview with a Saudi TV channel.

The United Nations said “compelling eyewitness accounts attribute this act to Arab militias and the RSF”, while the Darfur Lawyers Association condemned the act of “barbarism, brutality and cruelty”.

Burhan accused his paramilitary foes of the “treacherous attack”. The RSF denied responsibility and said it condemned Abakar’s “assassination in cold blood”.

Sudan analyst Kholood Khair of the Khartoum-based think tank Confluence Advisory said the “heinous assassination” was meant “to silence his highlighting of genocide… in Darfur”.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths, meanwhile, warned that the situation in Darfur was “rapidly spiraling into a humanitarian calamity”.

“The world cannot allow this to happen. Not again,” he said in a statement, describing the reality there as a “living nightmare”.

The US State Department also decried the violence in Darfur, calling it “an ominous reminder” of the bloodshed there 20 years ago that left hundreds of thousands of people dead.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the ongoing human rights violations and abuses and horrific violence in Sudan, especially reports of widespread sexual violence and killings based on ethnicity in West Darfur by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias,” spokesman Matthew Miller said.

Daglo’s RSF has its origins in the Janjaweed militias that former strongman Omar al-Bashir unleashed on ethnic minorities in the region in 2003, drawing charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Miller said up to 1,100 civilians have been killed in West Darfur’s capital, El Geneina, alone, while the United Nations is reporting more than 273,000 have been displaced from the region.

– ‘Completely devastated’ –

US and Saudi mediation efforts are at a standstill after the collapse of multiple ceasefires in the face of flagrant violations by both sides.

The East African Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has attempted to restart discussions, announcing this week that Kenya would chair a quartet including Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan tasked with resolving the crisis.

In a statement Thursday, the foreign ministry, loyal to Burhan, “objected to Kenya’s chairmanship”, alleging that Nairobi had “adopted the positions of the RSF militia, sheltered its people and offered them various forms of support”.

The office of Kenyan President William Ruto — who has met both RSF and army senior officials in recent weeks — had released a draft communique stating the intention to “arrange (a) face-to-face meeting between (Burhan and Daglo)… in one of the regional capitals”.

A Sudanese official told AFP, on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media, that Burhan “will not sit at the same table” as Daglo, as fighting shows no signs of abating.

A record 25 million people — more than half the population — are in need of aid, according to the UN, which says it has received only a fraction of the necessary funding.

Saudi Arabia has announced an international pledging conference for next week.

“We have nothing left,” said another person living in the capital, Ahmed Taha. “The entire country has been completely devastated… Every inch of Sudan is a disaster area.”

Many of the displaced have lost loved ones, as well as “all their belongings and livelihoods”, said Anja Wolz of aid group Doctors Without Borders.

Darfur, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the war’s main battlegrounds.

Homes and markets have been burned to the ground, hospitals and aid facilities looted and more than 149,000 people sent fleeing into neighbouring Chad.


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