Sudan’s government renewed attacks on villagers in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said, as numbers fleeing violence each month in the war-torn western region near the highest in a decade.
At least 38 people were reported dead after Sudanese army troops and militias attacked dozens of ethnic Fur and Zaghawa villages in south Darfur in late February and early March, the New York-based advocacy group said today in a statement, citing witnesses. The assaults caused more than 45,000 people to flee to camps for the displaced as recently as mid-March, HRW said. Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said rebels were responsible for the violence.
“The suffering of Darfur’s civilians at the hands of the government seems to never end,” Daniel Bekele, HRW’s Africa director, said in the statement. “The government needs to halt attacks on civilians in Darfur.”
Fighting between government forces and rebels as well as intercommunal clashes have displaced more than 160,000 people in Darfur in 2014, the United Nations said this week. Violence has also struck the town hosting the regional UN mission, where a Red Cross staff member was killed yesterday.
Insurgents in Darfur took up arms in 2003, accusing the government in Khartoum of neglecting the region. The conflict has led to the deaths of as many as 300,000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation, with about 2 million people currently displaced, according to UN estimates.
Human Rights Watch said Sudanese army aircraft bombed an area near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, before “large numbers of ground forces” entered villages riding pick- up trucks, horses and camels. Homes were burned, animals were stolen and water-wells were destroyed, the group said, citing eyewitnesses. The assaults involved the Rapid Support Forces, a militia previously deployed against rebels elsewhere in the country, HRW said.
Sudan’s government said rebels had committed rights violations in many areas of Darfur, forcing them to intervene. “When the government moves to restore security, it gets blamed by organizations like Human Rights Watch,” Osman said by phone from the capital, Khartoum.
Rapid Support Forces are “disciplined troops,” he said. Any violations attributed to them “are individual acts that happen in any armed forces in the world and are not a systematic policy.”
Violence in Darfur forced about 380,000 people to flee their homes last year, more than in any single year since the height of the conflict in 2004, according to the UN. Recent displacements “may indicate that this trend is continuing,” the UN’s humanitarian office said on March 12.
A Sudanese employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross was killed yesterday by a stray bullet in North Darfur’s state capital, El Fasher, part of a recent spate of violence in the town. Unidentified armed men set fire to parts of El Fasher’s university yesterday before fleeing, Ashorooq, a Khartoum-based TV channel, said on its website. The joint UN- African Union mission in Darfur said that one of its workers went missing in the town on March 11, without giving details.
The recent violence in Darfur prompted a protest by mainly Darfuri students at Khartoum University on March 11. Sudanese authorities used “excessive lethal force” to disperse demonstrators, killing one student and injuring “several” others, HRW said.
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