CAIRO (AP) — Tribal clashes that erupted over the weekend between Arabs and non-Arabs in Sudan’s western Darfur region have killed at least 40 people and wounded around 60 others, the U.N. said Monday.
The violence was between the Arab Rizeigat and the Masalit tribes in Genena, the provincial capital of West Darfur province. It happened after unknown armed men on Saturday shot dead two people from the Masalit, according to the U.N. humanitarian affairs agency.
Two others from the Masalit were wounded in that shooting, it said. The circumstances of the shootings were not immediately clear.
Since then, the two tribes have mobilized forces and gun fire could still be heard in Genena late Monday, it said.
Adam Regal, a spokesman for a local organization that helps run refugee camps in Darfur, said a shell hit a camp for displaced people in Genena on Monday, causing a fire that burned several houses. He shared video footage showing flames and thick clouds of black smoke.
“The situation is very difficult and grave,” he said.
The Sudanese doctors’ committee in West Darfur said armed men also opened fire on an ambulance late Sunday, wounding three health care workers.
Dr. Ibrahim Adam Othman, a member of the committer, said the death toll could be much higher because many were not able to reach hospitals.
The U.N. said all humanitarian activities were suspended as roads around the southern part of Genena were blocked.
It said more than 700,000 people have been affected by the clashes, since Genena serves as a hub for aid delivery to the conflict-wrecked region.
An unknown number of people fled their homes in Hay al-Jabal and al-Jamarik neighborhoods in Genena and took refuge in nearby mosques and public buildings, the U.N. agency added.
West Darfur Gov. Mohammed Abdalla al-Duma said in a statement that officials were taking “necessary measures” without elaborating. He urged residents in Genena to stay vigilant and remain at home until security forces contain the situation.
The clashes posed a challenge to efforts by Sudan’s transitional government to end decades-long rebellions in areas like Darfur.
Earlier this year, tribal violence in West Darfur and South Darfur provinces killed around 470 people. It also displaced more than 120,000 people, mostly women and children, including at least 4,300 who crossed into neighboring Chad, according to the U.N.
Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow longtime autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. A military-civilian government now rules the country, trying to end decades-long rebellions in various parts of the country, like the Darfur region.
The Darfur conflict broke out when rebels from the territory’s ethnic central and sub-Saharan African community launched an insurgency in 2003, complaining of oppression by the Arab-dominated government in the capital Khartoum.
Al-Bashir’s government responded with a scorched-earth campaign of aerial bombings and unleashed militias known as janjaweed who are accused of mass killings and rapes. Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were driven from their homes.
The International Criminal Court charged al-Bashir, who has been in jail in Khartoum since his 2019 ouster, with war crimes and genocide for allegedly masterminding the campaign of attacks in Darfur.