The death toll from tribal violence between Arabs and non-Arabs in Sudan’s West Darfur province climbed to at least 83, including women and children, a doctor’s union and aid worker said, as sporadic violence continued Sunday.
The deadly clashes grew out of a fistfight Friday between two people in a camp for displaced people in Genena, the provincial capital. An Arab man was stabbed to death and his family, from the Arab Rizeigat tribe, attacked the people in the Krinding camp and other areas Saturday.
Among the dead was a U.S. citizen. Saeed Baraka, 36, from Atlanta, had arrived in Sudan less than two months ago to visit his family in Darfur, his wife, Safiya Mohammed, told The Associated Press over the phone.
The father of three children rushed to relieve a neighbor amid the clashes in the Jabal village in West Darfur, when he was shot in his head Saturday, his brother-in-law Juma Salih said.
Baraka's wife said the U.S. embassy in Khartoum phoned her to offer condolences. The embassy did not return phone calls and emails from the AP seeking comment.
The violence led to local authorities imposing a round-the-clock curfew on the entire province. Besides the 83 killed, at least 160 others were wounded, according to Sudan’s doctors’ committee in West Darfur. It said there were troops among the wounded.
It said clashes subsided by midday on Sunday and the security situation started to improve.
The committee is part of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which spearheaded a popular uprising that eventually led to the military's ouster of longtime autocratic president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
The clashes pose a challenge to efforts by Sudan’s transitional government to end decades-long rebellions in areas like Darfur, where most people live in camps for the displaced and refugees.
Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy and is being ruled by a joint military-civilian government.
That bout of violence came two weeks after the U.N. Security Council ended the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force’s mandate in the region. The UNAMID force, established in 2007, is expected to complete its withdrawal by June 30.
It also puts into question the transitional government’s ability to stabilize the conflict-ravaged Darfur region.
Salah Saleh, a physician and former medical director at the main hospital in Genena, said clashes renewed Sunday morning at the Abu Zar camp for internally displaced people, south of the provincial capital.
He said most of the victims were shot dead, or suffered gunshot wounds.
Adam Regal, a spokesman for a local organization that helps run refugee camps in Darfur, said there were overnight attacks on Krinding. He shared footage showing properties burned to the ground, and wounded people on stretchers and in hospital beds.
Also read:Over 60 killed in Sudan violence: UN
Authorities in West Darfur imposed a curfew beginning Saturday that includes the closing of all markets and a ban on public gatherings. The central government in Khartoum also said Saturday a high-ranking delegation, chaired by the country’s top prosecutor, was heading to the province to help re-establish order.
A database by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, showed that inter-communal violence across Darfur region doubled in the second half of 2020, with at least 28 incidents compared to 15 between July and December 2019.
West Darfur province experienced a “significant increase” of violence last year, with half of the 40 incidents reported in the entire Darfur region, OCHA said Sunday.
From “emaciated” refugees to crops burned on the brink of harvest, starvation threatens the survivors of more than two months of fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
The first humanitarian workers to arrive after pleading with the Ethiopian government for access describe weakened children dying from diarrhea after drinking from rivers. Shops were looted or depleted weeks ago. A local official told a Jan. 1 crisis meeting of government and aid workers that hungry people had asked for “a single biscuit.”
More than 4.5 million people, nearly the region's entire population, need emergency food, participants say. At their next meeting on Jan. 8, a Tigray administrator warned that without aid, “hundreds of thousands might starve to death” and some already had, according to minutes obtained by The Associated Press.
“There is an extreme urgent need — I don’t know what more words in English to use — to rapidly scale up the humanitarian response because the population is dying every day as we speak,” Mari Carmen Vinoles, head of the emergency unit for Doctors Without Borders, told the AP.
But pockets of fighting, resistance from some officials and sheer destruction stand in the way of a massive food delivery effort. To send 15-kilogram (33-pound) rations to 4.5 million people would require more than 2,000 trucks, the meeting's minutes said, while some local responders are reduced to getting around on foot.
The specter of hunger is sensitive in Ethiopia, which transformed into one of the world's fastest-growing economies in the decades since images of starvation there in the 1980s led to a global outcry. Drought, conflict and government denial contributed to the famine, which swept through Tigray and killed an estimated 1 million people.
The largely agricultural Tigray region of about 5 million people already had a food security problem amid a locust outbreak when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Nov. 4 announced fighting between his forces and those of the defiant regional government. Tigray leaders dominated Ethiopia for almost three decades but were sidelined after Abiy introduced reforms that won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict. More than 50,000 have fled into Sudan, where one doctor has said newer arrivals show signs of starvation. Others shelter in rugged terrain. A woman who recently left Tigray described sleeping in caves with people who brought cattle, goats and the grain they had managed to harvest.
“It is a daily reality to hear people dying with the fighting consequences, lack of food,” a letter by the Catholic bishop of Adigrat said this month.
Hospitals and other health centers, crucial in treating malnutrition, have been destroyed. In markets, food is “not available or extremely limited,” the United Nations says.
Though Ethiopia's prime minister declared victory in late November, its military and allied fighters remain active amid the presence of troops from neighboring Eritrea, a bitter enemy of the now-fugitive officials who once led the region.
Fear keeps many people from venturing out. Others flee. Tigray’s new officials say more than 2 million people have been displaced, a number the U.S. government’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance calls “staggering.” The U.N. says the number of people reached with aid is “extremely low.”
A senior Ethiopian government official, Redwan Hussein, did not respond to a request for comment on Tigray colleagues warning of starvation.
In the northern Shire area near Eritrea, which has seen some of the worst fighting, up to 10% of the children whose arms were measured met the diagnostic criteria for severe acute malnutrition, with scores of children affected, a U.N. source said. Sharing the concern of many humanitarian workers about jeopardizing access, the source spoke on condition of anonymity.
Near Shire town are camps housing nearly 100,000 refugees who have fled over the years from Eritrea. Some who have walked into town "are emaciated, begging for aid that is not available,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Thursday.
Food has been a target. Analyzing satellite imagery of the Shire area, a U.K.-based research group found two warehouse-style structures in the U.N. World Food Program compound at one refugee camp had been “very specifically destroyed.” The DX Open Network could not tell by whom. It reported a new attack Saturday.
It's challenging to verify events in Tigray as communications links remain poor and almost no journalists are allowed.
In the towns of Adigrat, Adwa and Axum, “the level of civilian casualties is extremely high in the places we have been able to access,” the Doctors Without Borders emergency official Vinoles said. She cited the fighting and lack of health care.
Hunger is “very concerning," she said, and even water is scarce: Just two of 21 wells still work in Adigrat, a city of more than 140,000, forcing many people to drink from the river. With sanitation suffering, disease follows.
“You go 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city and it’s a complete disaster,” with no food, Vinoles said.
Humanitarian workers struggle to gauge the extent of need.
“Not being able to travel off main highways, it always poses the question of what’s happening with people still off-limits,” said Panos Navrozidis, Action Against Hunger’s director in Ethiopia.
Before the conflict, Ethiopia’s national disaster management body classified some Tigray woredas, or administrative areas, as priority one hotspots for food insecurity. If some already had high malnutrition numbers, “two-and-a-half months into the crisis, it’s a safe assumption that thousands of children and mothers are in immediate need," Navrozidis said.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, funded and managed by the U.S., says parts of central and eastern Tigray are likely in Emergency Phase 4, a step below famine.
The next few months are critical, John Shumlansky, the Catholic Relief Services representative in Ethiopia, said. His group so far has given up to 70,000 people in Tigray a three-month food supply, he said.
Asked whether combatants use hunger as a weapon, one concern among aid workers, Shumlansky dismissed it by Ethiopian defense forces and police. With others, he didn’t know.
“I don’t think they have food either, though,” he said.
A United Nations peacekeeper from Egypt was killed in Mali’s northern Kidal region on Friday, and another was seriously injured, after their vehicle hit an explosive device during a logistics convoy, the U.N. said.
It brought the toll to five U.N. peacekeepers killed in northern Mali in just a week.
Another explosive device was found at the scene in Tessalit and disabled, the U.N. mission in Mali said late Friday.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday strongly condemned the attack and said attacks against peacekeepers may constitute war crimes, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Four peacekeepers from Ivory Coast died from an improvised explosive device and an attack Wednesday by unidentified gunmen in the Timbuktu region. The U.N. said six were wounded.
The peacekeeping mission has been in Mali since 2013, after Islamic extremists took control of major towns in the north. A French-led military operation dislodged them, but the jihadists have since regrouped in rural areas and expanded their reach.
The U.N. says more than 231 peacekeepers in Mali have been killed due to hostile incidents, in what has become known as its most dangerous mission.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has underlined the critical role of the Security Council in addressing links between fragility and conflict, two of the greatest obstacles to achieving sustainable development across the world.
Guterres was speaking on Wednesday during a high-level virtual debate of the Council to examine the challenges of maintaining peace and security in fragile or conflict-affected countries, reports UN News.
“By acting early and preventively, by engaging strategically to address the root causes of conflict, and speaking with one voice, the Council can mobilize the international community’s political and financial support, shed a spotlight on critical areas of need, and foster the commitment of conflict actors where needed”, he said in French, speaking through an interpreter.
The UN chief stressed that breaking the cycle of poverty and conflict calls for recognizing peace and sustainable development are interdependent, while also promoting inclusion.
“Guaranteeing equal opportunities, protection, access to resources and services and participation in decision-making are not simply moral and legal obligations. They are a necessary condition if countries are to truly break out of the conflict trap”, he said.
Appeal from the Sahel
The linkages between conflict and fragility have been particularly visible in Africa, including in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, the Secretary-General continued. Climate change, terrorism, transnational organized crime and the proliferation of armed groups have only worsened the situation.
Last Saturday, gunmen killed more than 100 villagers in western Niger, which the UN strongly condemned. The country’s President, Mahamadou Issoufou, was among leaders participating in the virtual meeting.
“The international community must mobilize to help the countries in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin to move on from this fragile context, the primary victims of which are women and children,” President Issoufou said in French. He expressed hope that these regions will figure prominently in the Security Council’s agenda.
Support African Union initiatives
The UN has been working with the African Union (AU) and regional bodies to prevent and resolve conflicts, and to boost countries’ resilience.
However, the Secretary-General said AU peace support operations continue to require predictable and sustained financing, and he urged the Council to address the issue.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair of the AU Commission, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic and its “devastating” health and socio-economic impacts represent a further threat to fragile nations.
“States’ fragility remains a major obstacle to development in Africa, and overcoming these challenges is an absolute priority for the African Union, and it remains one of the pillars of our international agenda,” he said, also in French.
The UN chief told ambassadors that just a month ago, he had co-chaired the fourth UN-AU Annual Conference, which provided an opportunity to once again express support for the AU’s Silencing the Guns initiative, aimed at addressing the root causes of conflict across the continent.
“My call for a global ceasefire, goes hand-in-hand with this flagship initiative”, said Mr. Guterres, highlighting his months-long plea to all engaged in violence, to direct their fire instead at the common enemy – COVID-19.
‘New and bold steps’ needed
Looking to the promise of the New Year, Liberia’s former President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said the Council debate must lead to “new and bold steps” towards ending conflict, displacement and despair.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner recalled that the UN commemorated its 75th anniversary last year, a period which saw the Secretary-General advocating for climate action and the ceasefire during the pandemic.
Although the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, will celebrate the same milestone this year, “its continued existence is a mark on our collective conscious”, she stated. “It means that we have not pursued peace, not addressed fragility.”
Ms. Johnson Sirleaf said the UN and its many organs, especially the Security Council, were established to spearhead global development and global equity.
“The United Nations must continue to represent more than hope”, she said. “It must be an active mechanism for peace and scale-up support for the fragile nations that for too long have been left behind.”
More than 100 civilians were killed in Niger over the weekend by extremists who attacked two villages, as insurgent violence mounts in the West African nation.
The attacks on the western villages of Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye took place on the same day that Niger announced that presidential elections would go to a second round on Feb 21.
Niger’s Prime Minister Brigi Rafini visited the two villages Sunday.
“We came to provide moral support and present the condolences of the president of the republic, the government and the entire Niger nation,” he said.
The villages in the insecure Tillaberi region were attacked Saturday after residents killed two rebel fighters, local officials said.
The attacks are among the deadliest in Niger and come on the heels of several others, including one by the Islamic State West Africa Province in the Diffa region a few weeks ago in which dozens of people were killed.
Niger and neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali are battling the spread of deadly extremist violence which is displacing large numbers of people, despite the presence of thousands of regional and international troops.
A year ago, extremists staged mass attacks on Niger's military in the Tillaberi region, killing more than 70 in December 2019 and more than 89 in January 2020. The area is also where four US Special Forces soldiers were killed along with five Nigerien colleagues in October 2017.
While no group has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s killings, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has been mounting attacks there for some time.
Niger is pressed on all sides by extremist groups and must deal with spillover instability from both Mali and Nigeria. The cross-border conflict has become more deadly as it mixes with local Niger dynamics, according to Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Extremist groups Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and the al-Qaida-linked JNIM have been successful at strategically wiping out local traditional leaders and then inciting attacks between rival ethnic groups or communities, he said.
“They create uncertainty, unrest and disequilibrium that allows them to exploit grievances, intercommunal tensions,” which they then use to make alliances, he said.
The Niger government has been good in what Devermont called “course correction,” and it has done a better job with community involvement than neighboring governments of Mali and Burkina Faso. However, their capacity is limited as extremists from various groups exploit ethnic tensions across the vast country.
“It’s a wide swath in which different groups are operating in Niger, which means that the government has got a huge challenge on their hands,” Devermont said, noting that the incoming government will have a lot to deal with when it eventually takes office.
Niger was largely spared mass atrocities by armed groups and state forces in comparison to Mali and Burkina Faso until 2020, according to research consultancy MENASTREAM which focuses on security and conflict in the Sahel and North Africa.
Niger's upcoming second-round election in February will pave the way for the country’s first democratic handover of power from one elected president to another. Niger has experienced four coups since it became independent from France in 1960.
President Mahamadou Issoufou, who has served two terms, is stepping down.
Former Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum of the ruling party will face off with former President Mahamane Ousmane on Feb 21.
Bazoum on Sunday posted a video to social media expressing his condolences to the victims.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attacks and reaffirmed “the solidarity and support of the United Nations to the government and people of Niger in their fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime,” according to a statement from spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
The UN Refugee Agency also condemned the twin attacks, saying they forced at least 1,000 to flee, many by foot, in a region already hosting 60,000 Malian refugees, 4,000 people who have fled Burkina Faso and more than 138,000 internally displaced Nigeriens.
“We express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of these outrageous attacks on peaceful communities,” said the UNHCR’s representative in Niger, Alessandra Morelli. “Communities which are now torn apart by brutality and forced to flee in a region where tens of thousands of people displaced by violence are hosted and hoping to rebuild their lives.”
Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali in the Sahel are at the epicenter of one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement and protection crises, the refugee agency said.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari also condemned the killings, saying “instability in one part of Africa had implications for the security of others,” in a statement from his office in Abuja.
“I am profoundly shocked by the large scale death of innocent people at the hands of these callous militants who have no regard for the sanctity of human life,” he said. “We are facing grave security challenges on account of the evil campaign of indiscriminate violence by terrorists in the Sahel and only united action can help us defeat these vicious enemies of humanity.”