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Sudan deploys troops to Darfur to contain tribal violence

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this file photo, a convoy of Sudanese security forces is seen deployed during a rally in al-Geneina, the capital of the West Darfur State, in Sudan. (By AFP)

Sudan's transitional government has deployed military units to the conflict-ridden Darfur region in an attempt to help restore calm there following three days of tribal violence.

The heavy deployment of troops on Tuesday came after violent clashes claimed at least 155 lives, wounded scores, and displaced tens of thousands in the restive state.  

The violence reportedly started as a local dispute on Saturday between the Massalit tribe and Arab nomads in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur State, before quickly morphing into broader fighting involving armed militias in the area.

State Governor Mohamed Abdalla al-Douma said at least 100 people were killed, more than 130 others were injured and up to 50,000 people were forced to flee areas in and around the Kerindig camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Sudanese authorities imposed a state-wide curfew in West Darfur, while the Khartoum government dispatched a "high-profile" delegation to help contain the situation.

On Sunday, the head of Sudan's ruling body, army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met top security chiefs to discuss the violence.

"There have been no clashes since Sunday, but there were incidents of looting, especially of houses and farms of people living at the Kerindig IDP camp," Douma said.

Douma said houses were burned and farm produce stolen in villages near El Geneina, but added that "we sent security to surround these villages and they are now secure."

"The situation is calm in the state as security forces have spread in and around the city of El Geneina and Kerindig," he added.

Separate clashes on Monday in South Darfur between members of the Fallata ethnic group and the Arab Rizeigat tribe also claimed the lives of at least 55 people and wounded 37 others.

Sudan's state news agency, SUNA, reported that a heavy troop presence had also restored order in the town of Gereida, where the deadly clashes took place.

"The situation is calm today in our village in South Darfur. There are no clashes," tribal leader Mohamed Saleh said. But he said people were "tense, fearing a renewed outbreak of violence."

The latest attacks came just weeks after a long-running peacekeeping mission ended its operation in the region.

On December 31, the hybrid United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) formally ended its operations in the region. It plans a phased withdrawal of its approximately 8,000 armed and civilian personnel within six months.

People in Darfur protested the departure of the UN peacekeepers, citing fears of renewed violence.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that "any further violence needs to be prevented and perpetrators brought to justice."

He also called for the "fast implementation" of a peace deal that was signed in early October last year with rebel groups to end years of conflict in Sudan, and cooperation with the newly established UN political mission installed in Darfur after the end of UNAMID's mandate.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has already expressed concern about the violence in Darfur.

"The Secretary-General calls on the Sudanese authorities to expend all efforts to de-escalate the situation and bring an end to the fighting, restore law and order and ensure the protection of civilians," his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on Sunday.

Brokering lasting peace in Darfur and other parts of Sudan is one of the main challenges facing military and civilian authorities sharing power following the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir last April.

Conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003 after mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum. Up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced, including more than 180,000 displaced in West Darfur, according to UN estimates.

Back then, the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum responded by recruiting and arming a notorious Arab-dominated militia known as the Janjaweed. The main conflict has subsided over the years, but ethnic and tribal clashes still flare periodically.

Sudan is undergoing a rocky political transition after the ouster of Bashir in April 2019 triggered by mass protests against his rule. Bashir, who is currently in custody in Khartoum, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged genocide and war crimes in Darfur perpetrated over a decade ago.

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