Death toll from fighting in Sudan's Darfur rises to 50: medics

Khartoum, Sudan: At least 50 people have been killed in four days of violence in Sudan's Darfur, medics said Tuesday in a revised toll.

El Geneina, capital of West Darfur and close to the border with Chad, has seen days of fighting including gunfire and shelling, residents said.

The West Darfur Doctors' Committee said its latest count "raised the total numbers since the start of the events to 50 dead and 132 wounded."

"Despite relative calm since (Monday) night, medical teams continue to find it very difficult to move," it said in a statement.

The UN humanitarian coordination office OCHA had on Monday reported 40 dead and 58 wounded in clashes pitting Arab tribes against the non-Arab Massalit ethnic group in El-Geneina.

El-Geneina resident Mohamed Abdel Rahman told AFP over the phone Tuesday: "There was calm overnight but this morning we heard gunfire from Hay Al-Jabal district which lasted almost an hour."

Another resident three kilometres from Hay Al-Jabal, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had also heard gunfire.

Authorities on Monday night declared a state of emergency and deployed troops to West Darfur.

The UN said it had suspended flights and aid operations to the city, a key hub for humanitarian assistance -- a decision the world body said would affect upwards of 700,000 people.

In January, just two weeks after a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission wound up operations, similar clashes killed more than 200 people, mostly in West Darfur.

The region was the epicentre of years of bloodshed starting in 2003 under then president Omar al-Bashir.

Ethnic minority groups complaining of marginalisation had taken up arms against the central government, which responded by unleashing armed groups largely made up of Arab nomads.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide over the conflict, which the UN says left 300,000 people dead and displaced more than 2.5 million.

Bashir's iron-fisted rule was ended by the army in April 2019 following months of mass protests.

Sudan's transitional government in October signed a peace deal with several rebel groups, including in Darfur -- but certain factions did not sign the accord.

Women and children fleeing

The vast Darfur region was ravaged by a civil war that erupted in 2003, leaving around 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the UN.

The conflict has subsided over the years, and the latest in a string of peace deals was agreed in October.

But clashes still erupt, often over land and access to water.

Eyewitnesses said fighting still raged on Monday afternoon, as thick smoke billowed over El Geneina.

"We stayed in our homes, but we've been hearing gunfire close by -- a shell landed at our neighbor's home," said Adam Issa, another resident.

The West Darfur Doctors' Committee said an ambulance carrying wounded victims was attacked.

After years of conflict, the region is awash with automatic weapons.

Clashes often pit nomadic Arab pastoralists against settled farmers from non-Arab ethnic groups.

"I live in the eastern part of the city, and I am seeing a cloud of smoke covering the western, southern, and southwestern districts," said Saleh Issa, another El Geneina resident.

"Some residents from these neighborhoods have fled towards our area -- most of are women and children," he added.

Sudan is in the midst of a rocky transitional period following the toppling of long-time president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 off the back of mass protests against his rule.

The transitional government has pushed to build peace with rebel groups in Sudan's main conflict zones, including Darfur.

On December 31, the UN and African Union ended a 13-year peacekeeping mission in Darfur, even as residents feared further violence.

More than 200 people were killed in clashes in January, in some of the worst bloodsheds the region had witnessed in years.

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