Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Sudan siege bears hallmarks of brutal Darfur war

Sudan siege bears hallmarks of brutal Darfur war

6 hours ago

DW spoke to Sudanese civilians under siege in El Fasher amid attacks by the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces. Is this a repeat of the "scorched earth" tactics used in the Darfur genocide?
A woman stands holding her baby while she waits in a long line of other women
This woman waits to see a doctor with her baby at the Zamzam displacement camp, close to El Fasher in North Darfur, Sudan

The struggle to survive Sudan's civil war has taken its toll on Taj-Alseer Ahamed. After holding out for two months in Darfur's besieged city El Fasher,  Ahamed is on the verge of breaking down.

"We don't have money to buy food or water. We don't know where our relatives are. We cannot sleep and have to hide from bullets or missiles day and night," he told DW in El Fasher.

During the first year of war, which broke out in April 2023 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), El Fasher had turned into a relatively safe place for some 1.5 million people, including 800,000 internally displaced persons.

However, in mid-April 2024, the situation changed. The humanitarian hub, which is under SAF control, became the last major battle zone in Sudan's Darfur region, which is largely under RSF control.

As of last week, fighting in El Fasher has killed at least 226 people, according to the medical charity organization Doctors Without Borders. The United Nations also states that around 130,000 people fled the city since April.

Taj-alseer Ahamed, Sudanese refugee in El Fasher speaks to DW in front of his destroyed house
Taj-alseer Ahamed is losing hope after an RSF attack destroyed the neighborhood in El Fasher. Image: DW

Yet, both figures might be much higher as the ongoing fighting makes it difficult to keep track of refugees and casualties.

Since the beginning of the conflict in Sudan more than a year ago, the World Health Organization estimates that around 16,000 people have been killed and 33,000 injured. The war has also displaced more than 9 million people and left some 5 million on the brink of famine.

"This is the largest humanitarian crisis on the face of the planet, and yet somehow it threatens to get worse," Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, recently said.

'Life is unbearable'

"We are just people who don't belong to any side, so why are we being shelled and killed?" asked Mohammad Mousa, an internally displaced Sudanese refugee.

"A few days ago, dozens of innocent civilians were killed by artillery fire in our neighborhood," he told DW.

Due to the shelling and the resulting chaos "we couldn't find our children." He is still in shock, but at last, the family managed to rejoin. 

Mohammad Moussa shows DW the leftovers of the building in El Fasher
DW spoke to Mohammed Moussa in the besieged city El Fasher. He lost his house through attacks by the Rapid Support Forces that are at war with the Sudanese Armed Forces.Image: DW

Mousa's neighbor Hamid Adam showed DW the remains of his house. "It was quarter to nine in the morning when the first missile blew up on Alarbeen Street. Then the second exploded in Isa Arabi's house and the third went off in front of my house.

"This is not just artillery fire, this was a rocket that was strong enough to destroy mountains but should never be used against human beings."

Mohamed Osman, a Sudan researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, told DW the region continues to see "relentless shelling and airstrikes, burning of residential areas and attacks that have significantly damaged infrastructure critical to the population, especially healthcare."

"Life has become unbearable for those who remain in the city," Osman said.

In addition to the attacks by the RSF, the Sudanese Armed Forces are extremely restricting and hampering access to aid, he told DW.

"This is a war crime. We need to see concerted and coordinated action to press the warring parties to allow unfettered humanitarian access."

Last Thursday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding an end to the siege. The international body expressed "grave concern" over the spreading of violence in light of credible reports that the RSF is carrying out "ethnically motivated violence" in El Fasher.

However, on the ground, not much seems to be changing. DW correspondents confirmed on Tuesday that fighting was ongoing, and there was a lack of water, food and humanitarian aid.

'Scorched earth'

"What is happening in El Fasher is best described as scorched earth strategy," Hager Ali, a researcher at the German think tank GIGA Institute for Global and Area Studies, told DW.

The term "scorched earth" as a war tactic was used as early as in the violent Darfur War in 2003. Brutal attacks by the Janjaweed Forces, the predecessor of the RSF, had killed hundreds of thousands of non-Arab people.

A damaged building in Omdurman, the twin city of Sudan's capital Khartoum
War has raged for more than a year in Sudan between the regular military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces Image: AFP

Ali points out that it seems that history is about to repeat itself in light of the siege and the shelling of El Fasher's population.

The destruction of important agricultural goods, razing villages, the systematic killing of non-Arab minorities, widespread sexual violence against women, "all of this is to make sure that even when you retreat, your enemy has absolutely nothing to gain," Ali said. 

And yet, Ali doubts that El Fasher will remain under the control of the Sudanese Armed Forces.

In her view, the SAF most likely already considers Darfur as a lost case, including El Fasher. 

"It would take substantial resources from the Sudanese Armed Forces to reestablish any control in Darfur but it would not translate into the same decisive victory as if they were to reconquer the cities of Omdurman or Khartoum," Ali said.

However, as of now, there are neither signs that SAF troops are planning to retreat, nor that RSF troops are advancing.

For the Sudanese refugee Hamid Adam in El Fasher, this means bearing the brunt of the bleak war reality for longer. 

"At night, armed groups came into our house and told us to get out," he told DW adding that "we call on the government to come and rescue us." So far, to no avail.

Sudan civil war displaces millions


Mariel Müller, DW's Bureau Chief East Africa, contributed to this article.

Edited by: Maren Sass

Jennifer Holleis
Jennifer Holleis Editor and commentator focusing on the Middle East and North Africa

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