Widespread violence continues throughout Central Darfur, as a government military offensive entered its sixth day. The military offensive began on January 15, when Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and other government-supported militias attacked the stronghold of the Sudan Liberation Movement–Abdul Wahid al-Nur (SLM–AW) in Jebel Marra. On January 20, Radio Dabanga reported an escalation of violence, as SAF and government-backed militias reportedly shot and killed 42 people in Golo. The RSF has targeted Golo in the past and stands accused of committing widespread atrocities against civilians there in 2015. SLM–AW and the SAF have provided conflicting accounts of the fighting, including the number of casualties and losses sustained. UNAMID and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have voiced deep concerns over this ongoing violence, noting that it has already affected thousands living in Darfur.
One extremely troublesome aspect of this military offensive is the Sudanese government’s reported use of barrel bombs in Jebel Marra. The government drops these bombs from the cargo hatch of retrofitted Russian cargo planes (Antonovs), resulting in inaccurate and imprecise targeting and unnecessary casualties and destruction. This bombing campaign has resulted in the deaths of at least five children, as well as the destruction of two schools, several homes, and farms. Residents have abandoned over thirty villages and fled to caves to escape attack. While the SAF and RSF denied targeting civilians, this pattern of indiscriminate bombing is strikingly similar to the government’s aerial bombing campaign in the Nuba Mountains, which also relies on retrofitted Antonovs and disproportionately harm civilians.
The UN Security Council has showed its disdain for barrel bombs, as it demanded all parties to the conflict in Syria to end their indiscriminate use of these weapons in February 2014, weapons which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called “horrendous.” Although not explicitly banned under international humanitarian law, the use of these bombs—commonly referred to as “flying IEDs”—is highly discouraged, as it often violates the principle of distinction given the inaccuracy of these improvised weapons.
These indiscriminate attacks and continued violence demonstrate the spuriousness of the Sudan government’s claim that it has achieved peace and stability in Darfur. Incredulously, Sudanese Army Spokesperson Ahmed al-Shami stated the army remains committed to the ceasefire announced by President Bashir on December 31, 2015. Despite this “ceasefire,” Radio Dabanga reports that RSF personnel continue to murder, rape, and plunder. More recently, one activist claimed that RSF forces killed and wounded two civilians, raped five women, and carried away stolen goods on motorcycles and livestock after intercepting displaced civilians east of Nierteti.