Battle in Sudan's capital risks awakening war in Darfur

Battle in Sudan's capital risks awakening war in Darfur
Both warring leaders in Sudan's current conflict built their careers in the bloodshed of civil war in Darfur.
2 min read
Civilians in Darfur still live in the shadow of genocidal violence [Getty images]

Darfur inhabitants fear battles between Sudan's rival military leaders could reawaken war in the vast and largely desert region already scarred by a two-decade-old conflict.

The Darfur conflict originated around 2003-2004, pitting rebels against government forces backed by horse-riding militia known as "Janjaweed" in violence that killed some 300,000 people and uprooted millions from their homes.

Despite repeated peace deals, the conflict has simmered ever since, with violence rising in the past two years.

So when Sudan's army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary, who had been ruling together during a political transition, began shooting at each other earlier this month in Khartoum, the violence quickly spread to Darfur.

Residents and sources have reported pillaging, ethnic reprisal attacks, and clashes between the two military factions in various population centres around the farming and nomadic region that is roughly the size of France.

Live Story

Local mediation has helped cool the strife in the main cities of Nyala and al-Fashir, but shelling and looting have continued in the town of Geneina, leaving Darfuris fearing another major explosion of warfare.

"If this continues, if we get the killing of military commanders that are a part of influential tribes, then it'll be anarchy. There will be tribal mobilisation," said Ahmed Gouja, a journalist and rights activist in Nyala.

For Sudan's warring leaders - army chief Abdel-Fattah Burhan and RSF head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as "Hemedti" - Darfur is as familiar as it is strategically important.

Both men built their careers in Darfur, and their latest fighting has introduced Khartoum citizens to the airstrikes, looting and insecurity that marked that conflict.

Burhan rose through the army ranks while fighting in Darfur.

Hemedti got his start as a leader of one of the militias that did much of the government side's fighting during the Darfur conflict, inflicting an outsize proportion of the violence.

As the army now tries to push his RSF fighters from positions across Khartoum, the group could fall back on its roots in Darfur to try to regroup and raise reinforcements.

Reporting by Reuters