January 1, 2020 / 3:39 PM / 19 days ago

More than 20 dead, many displaced after violence in Sudan's West Darfur

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - At least 24 people were confirmed killed after a camp for internally displaced people was attacked in Sudan’s West Darfur, an international peacekeeping official said on Wednesday, as top officials arrived to try to calm the violence.

Krinding Camp, just east of state capital el-Geneina, was raided on Dec. 29-30 following a dispute between Arab and African ethnic groups, said Ashraf Eissa, a spokesman for the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur, UNAMID.

“The Arab tribesman’s people came to the IDP camp and started shooting and killing and burning,” he said.

“Then relatives went to the hospital and threatened hospital staff at gunpoint and destroyed the blood bank ... and when a government of Sudan policeman tried to intervene he was shot and killed.”

Brokering lasting peace in Darfur and other parts of Sudan is one of the main challenges facing military and civilian authorities sharing power following the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir last April.

Conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003 after mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum. Up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced, including more than 180,000 displaced in West Darfur, according to U.N. estimates.

West Darfur has been generally calm since 2010 though tensions between the Masalit and Arab tribes resurfaced in 2017 leading to occasional, smaller scale skirmishes, Eissa said.

On Wednesday, senior officials including sovereign council member General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok arrived in el-Geneina and were briefed on the security situation, the council said in a statement.

At least 17 people were wounded in the violence around el-Geneina, though casualty figures were initial estimates and could rise, Eissa said. Many people from the camp fled to el-Geneina or nearby mountains.

After exchanges of fire across al-Geneina on Tuesday, he said the situation remained very tense.

A local journalist said the violence had spread to the surrounding area, at least 10 villages had been burnt, and some people were trying to flee across the border into Chad. A statement from the non-Arab Masalit ethnic group put the number of dead at more than 50, but the figure could not be independently confirmed.

UNAMID, which has been gradually drawing down its presence in Darfur, withdrew from el-Geneina in May 2019. On the day it was meant to hand over its headquarters in the city to the government, the camp was raided and gutted by security forces and civilians.

UNAMID does not have a mandate to conduct peacekeeping operations in el-Geneina, though its mandate could be extended to the area “in extremis”, Eissa said.

On Dec. 27 hundreds of men in uniform and civilians raided and looted another former UNAMID camp in Nyala in South Darfur, which had been handed over to the government in November, UNAMID said in a statement.

Additional reporting and writing by Aidan Lewis in Cairo; Editing by Alison Williams

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