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A Spate of Clashes in Darfur, While the World Watches the South

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A Spate of Clashes in Darfur, While the World Watches the South

Posted by Laura Heaton on January 13, 2011

JAAC, Southern Sudan — Angelina’s second child, a daughter named Mary, was born just a couple of months ago, somewhere between Darfur and southern Sudan.

Angelina, 25, was nine months pregnant when Antonovs started flying over her village of Liet in South Darfur. Then the Janjaweed militias arrived. Angelina, her husband, and their five-year-old son fled south, eventually settling in a newly formed settlement of displaced people in this remote village in southern Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal state.

“The running made my baby come,” Angelina said, describing how she gave birth during the journey, which took two weeks by foot.

“We had heard about fighting nearby, but we didn’t know it would come to us,” Angelina said when asked whether she had ever been affected by the fighting between the Sudanese government and Darfuri rebels that has plagued Sudan’s western region for years.

While Sudanese and international leaders are focused on the South Sudan referendum, violence in Darfur has been on the rise, including in some corners that have never before seen the aerial bombardments and village razing typically associated with the region. Since early last year, the Sudanese government has been pursuing a strategy to militarily target various factions of the Darfur rebel movement, even as peace negotiations with rebel leaders hobble along in Doha, Qatar. But the clashes have intensified in recent weeks, leading some to conclude that the Sudanese government is taking advantage of the intense spotlight on the South.

For instance, the timing of a recent assault carried out by the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, and Janjaweed fighters on the village of Khor Abeche, and the subsequent blockade of aid and monitoring teams – during a period in December when much of the world was celebrating the holiday season – wasn’t a coincidence, some Darfur analysts say.

Reprisal attacks launched by rebel factions and some conflicting reports about occasions when the rebels may have initiated clashes indicate that the government’s recent offensives won’t go unanswered. Sudan analyst Laura Jones noted that the apparently indiscriminate nature of the government’s attacks and widespread displacement of civilians seems to be contributing to the robustness of the response from the rebels.

The security situation in Darfur may deteriorate further in coming weeks, especially since little attention or public condemnation has been leveled at the government for its lack of civilian protection and its blockade of humanitarian aid. And as the story of Angelina and her family illustrates, the longer-term impact of the recent fighting should not be ignored.

Here’s an overview of some of the recent fighting in Darfur and its humanitarian impact, drawing from UNAMID and humanitarian sources as well as insights and information from Enough’s sources in the region. It is important to note that the narrative and details of the following incidents are difficult to confirm because access to the conflict areas – and indeed to the entire region, which requires permission from Khartoum – is restricted by government security forces.

Jebel Marra – October, November, December. The planned distribution of humanitarian aid to Jebel Marra was delayed for the third time in recent weeks, UNAMID reported on December 2. Peacekeepers have only had sporadic access to the area, and this time reported that they were barred access through the “lack of timely security clearance from the Sudanese authorities and logistical constraints for the airlifting of the necessary protection force.” A spokesman from OCHA, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordination group, confirmed to Enough that the last time aid groups were able to reach displaced people in eastern Jebel Marra, where fighting was heavy last year, was September 27. The area has long served as a stronghold for the SLA-Abdel Wahid rebel group. Government forces have been battering the strategic mountainous region with aerial bombardments for years and even more intensely since early 2010. Isolating the area from humanitarian assistance has been a thinly veiled strategy to complement the months-long military offensive against the rebel group and its civilian sympathizers, Darfur analysts say.

Khor Abeche, South Darfur – December 10, 11, 17, 18. The Sudanese Armed Forces launched an attack on December 10, followed by ground attacks the next day, according to UNAMID. SAF was reportedly targeting elements of the rebel group SLA-Minni Minnawi in Khor Abeche town and the surrounding villages. Two sources indicated that Janjaweed of Birgid ethnicity, led by a Nazir Musa Galis, a former police officer and NCP loyalist, were involved in the offensive. Fighting resumed on December 17 and 18, which, according to UNAMID, led to the further displacement of around 12,000 people. An already tenuous humanitarian crisis created by the violence deteriorated when the government blocked the U.N. peacekeepers and aid delivery from the area for more than two weeks. Displaced people who gathered near the UNAMID team site in the area received some assistance, but aid did not reach Khor Abeche and nearby IDP camps until December 30. By then, even the UNAMID team site in the area had run out of food. During the blockade, some IDP camps in the area were specifically targeted, UNAMID reported.

Shangil Tobaya, North Darfur – December 14. The Sudan Armed Forces and SLA-Minni Minnawi clashed after SLA-MM fired on the military escort accompanying a convoy of Sudanese government officials, according to UNAMID and sources in the area. Rebels reportedly mistook the military escort advance party as the set-up of an attack, and a 30-minute firefight ensued in which a UNAMID staff member and three civilians were injured. The humanitarian impact in the aftermath of the fighting was particularly severe because the area was cut off from assistance. The U.N. reported that an assessment mission was given permission to travel to the area on December 30 – nearly two weeks after the fighting broke out – but was not permitted to take off from El Fasher airport “at the last minute … by local authorities stating security reasons.” Some assistance reached displaced communities when the road to Shangil Tobaya was reopened at the end of December, and aid organizations planned to begin delivering assistance to as many as 60,000 people during the first week of January. 

Dar Es Salam, North Darfur – December 23. Several rebel factions launched an attack on SAF troops in Dar Es Salam village. Radio Dabanga reported that the joint force included fighters from JEM, the SLA factions of Minni Minnawi, Abdel Wahid, and Abdullah Yahia, and a contingent from the Liberation and Justice Movement, despite having signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in March of last year (which was subsequently renewed). Radio Dabanga pointed out that the Dar Es Salam offensive was the first joint rebel attack in recent years and officially negates the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement signed by SLA-Minni Minnawi and the government in Abuja. OCHA reported that the fighting displaced 13,000 to 15,000 people.

When Enough visited the new settlement in Jaac in mid-December, displaced people from South Darfur were continuing to arrive every day to the dusty plot of land near an old airstrip where local authorities had temporarily given them land.

Unlike in Darfur, where some of the IDP camps that have existed for years have taken on the infrastructure of towns, the settlement in Jaac has a temporary feel. Aid organizations working in the area were providing minimal services so that people won’t be enticed to stay, they said. But all of the displaced people Enough interviewed said they didn’t have any intention of going back to Darfur any time soon, and aid workers acknowledged that they may soon have to start providing additional support as the population swells beyond the capacity of the current set-up.

The humanitarians in Jaac talked about how they will work to avoid having the settlement turn into a camp, which can take years to dismantle once it is created. But one aid worker told Enough that if Darfur remains volatile, yet another large IDP camp may be the inevitable result.