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Security Situation Uncertain After Deadly Violence in West Darfur

Although calm has returned to the Jebel Moon area of Sudan’s West Darfur state after a fresh wave of violence that left 19 people dead, an independent group that helps internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees says the security situation remains uncertain.

Adam Rijal, the spokesperson for the General Coordination for Displaced Persons and Refugees in Darfur, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus radio program on Monday it is too early to tell what will happen next.

“Darfur, and especially Jebel Moon is experiencing an unstable security situation characterized by violations and crimes taking place under the watch of [Sudan’s] military coup government against unarmed civilians residing in their villages and these militias come and attack them without any provocation on the side of the civilians,” said Rijal.

The Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors said Saturday the total death toll in Jebel Moon in March had risen to 35 after armed militiamen attacked civilians and burned their villages.

The head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, Volker Perthes, released a statement Sunday condemning the attacks.

Perthes said the violence represents “another alarming sign of the increasing instability in Sudan.” He called on Sudanese authorities to restore stability in the region and urged all parties to act “with restraint” to prevent further violence.

The spokesperson for the Sovereign Council, Salma Abdel-Jabbar Al-Mubarak Musa, said Monday that Sudan’s ruling body had “discussed the implementation of the National Plan for Protection of Civilians and its importance in achieving stability in Darfur.” Mubarak said the Council also discussed the “urgent need to activate the offices of prosecution and judicial courts across Darfur to facilitate the achievement of justice.”

Jebel Moon experienced a wave of violence in November last year when Arab nomads attacked farmers in the area. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at least 43 people were killed and 46 villages were burned and looted.

Rijal told VOA similar attacks resumed this month, with attacks on March 3 and 5 leaving 16 people dead, and more attacks last Thursday killing 19. He says another 21 people have been wounded, and four villages burnt to the ground.

The Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors released a statement on Saturday confirming the same figures.

Thousands of civilians have fled to eastern Chad and are sheltering in Farchana refugee camp near the border with Darfur, said Rijal.

He argues that what is happening in Jebel Moon is not an ethnic feud but a battle over minerals and land which involves a systematic campaign to displace the local villagers.

“Someone wants access to these resources, and they are pitting some groups against others so that they can have the resources of the area. The assailants do not necessarily share a tribal affiliation,” Rijal told VOA. “If they succeed in displacing the local population, then the government will come and have access to all the resources including gold and other minerals. The area is also conducive to rearing livestock because of the fertile land with plenty of water and lush vegetation.”

Rijal asserts the militiamen who carried out the recent attacks came from widespread and remote areas, including Nyala in South Darfur, Zalingei in Central Darfur, and from beyond the border in neighboring Chad. The men were armed with machine guns on the backs of pick-up trucks and motorbikes and used those weapons to attack villagers and loot their property, he says.

A 2020 peace agreement signed between Sudan’s transitional government and rebel groups from Darfur provided for a special joint force to protect civilians in Darfur. The force has yet to be formed.

Rijal said the militiamen who attacked Jebel Moon and other parts of Darfur are the same groups accused of committing crimes against humanity and other atrocities against civilians in Darfur under former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who was overthrown in April 2019.

Sudan’s military coup in October last year, which ended the civilian-led transitional government, has emboldened militiamen in Darfur to carry out crimes against civilians with impunity according to Rijal.