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Death Toll Rises From West Darfur Fighting

FILE - An internally displaced Sudanese family poses for a photograph outside their makeshift shelter within the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur.
FILE - An internally displaced Sudanese family poses for a photograph outside their makeshift shelter within the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur.

The death toll in West Darfur state climbed to 159 Tuesday, with more than 200 people injured after more than three days of fighting between different ethnic communities, according to the Committee of West Darfur Doctors.

The committee says the violence began Friday when a member of the African Masalit tribe killed a member of an Arab tribe. Arab militiamen organized revenge attacks the following day, which targeted the Kirendig IDP camp where Masalit tribesmen resided.

Since then, there have been accusations and counteraccusations of ethnic targeting of civilians.

Separately Monday, members of the African Fallata tribe and members of the Arab Rezegat tribe clashed in South Darfur state, leaving more than 50 people dead. Dozens of others were wounded, according to the official Sudan News Agency.

Mohamed Raja, an internally displaced person (IDP) who lived at the Kirendig camp when it came under attack Saturday, said Tuesday that despite fresh clashes that broke out the day before, things are relatively calm in West Darfur state. But he added that thousands of IDPs who were forced to flee the camp need food and shelter.

Raja told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that armed militiamen were still occupying the camp Tuesday.

“The whole camp is occupied by militia, they burned all our crops and settled there, as we speak, we cannot return to the camp nor can the police or army go in there. Some of the dead bodies are still lying inside the camp — we cannot retrieve them,” Raja said.

He said IDP’s were forced to take shelter inside schools and other buildings in El Genena.

“We are now occupying around 46 schools and centers because they are located at the heart of the city, but we still are not 100 percent safe. Militia infiltrate the area every now and then and we can still hear gunshots from where we are,” Raja told VOA.

Behind the attacks

Ismael Ibrahim, a professor at the Institute of African and Asian Studies at the University of Khartoum, said it is difficult to attribute the violence in West Darfur to any single individual or entity.

He said the repeated episodes of violence are a legacy of the war in Darfur and the policies of former president Omar al-Bashir's administration, which pitted Arab and African communities in Darfur against one another.

“The government right now has inherited a very fragile social situation where the situation is full of tribal and ethnic conflicts. One of the most important aspects of the past regime was the policy of divide and rule and one aspect of that policy was creating antagonism and accentuating already existing conflicts between different tribes or ethnic groups, particularly in Darfur,” Ibrahim told South Sudan in Focus.

He said it’s very easy for any kind of misunderstanding to escalate between individuals from different tribes in Darfur.

“That kind of misunderstanding ends up in killing an innocent person and then it’s very easy also for that incident to get transformed in a very short time into some sort of armed conflict between two tribal or ethnic groups,” added Ibrahim.

UN mission withdrew

The United Nations-African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) recently withdrew from West Darfur state as its mandate came to an end on December 31.

Adam Rijal, a spokesperson for IDPs in West Darfur, said their withdrawal was a mistake.

“We warned the government and even the U.N. Security Council about the decision to withdraw UNAMID forces from Darfur. At least when they were here, they could report the violence accurately and independently which made the militia somewhat restrained, but now they are emboldened by what they see as weakness and security vacuum,” Rijal told South Sudan in Focus.

UNAMID spokesperson Ashraf Eissa said Sudan’s protection force was supposed to take over when UNAMID’s mandate ended in Darfur.

“We don’t have a mandate; our mandate has ended. If you were to ask me before midnight 31st of December, I would have happily opined about it — now I can’t,” Eissa told VOA.