UN officials reported a fresh massacre of more than 60 people in Sudan‘s West Darfur, as the country’s prime minister promised fresh troops for the conflict-stricken region.
Attackers targeted members of the local Masalit community, looting and burning houses and part of the local market, a statement said.
Around 500 armed men attacked Masteri Town, north of Beida, in Darfur on Saturday afternoon, said the Sunday statement from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“This was one of the latest of a series of security incidents reported over the last week that left several villages and houses burned, markets and shops looted, and infrastructure damaged,” said the statement, from the OCHA’s Khartoum office.
Following Saturday’s attack on Masteri, around 500 local people staged a protest demanding more protection from the authorities.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said the government would send security forces to conflict-stricken Darfur to “protect citizens and the farming season.”
The force will include army and police, he said in a statement after he met a delegation of women from the region.
On Friday, armed men drove into a village and killed 20 civilians returning to their fields for the first time in years, an eyewitness and a tribal chief told AFP.
Darfur has been devastated since 2003 by a conflict between ethnic minority rebels and forces loyal to now-ousted president Omar al-Bashir, including the feared Janjaweed militia, mainly recruited from Arab pastoralist tribes.
A government scorched-earth campaign to crush the rebels left 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million. Violence in Darfur has eased since Bashir’s ouster by the army amid mass protests against his rule last year.
The government and a coalition of nine rebel groups, including factions from the region, signed a preliminary peace deal in January.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in the conflict.
Farmers displaced by the fighting had since started to return to their land under a government-sponsored deal reached two months ago, in time for the July-November planting season.
But the bloodshed has continued, particularly over land rights, according to expert Adam Mohammad. “The question of land is one cause of the conflict,” he said. “During the war, peasants fled their lands and villages to camps, and nomads replaced them and settled there.”
The recent killings have targeted the African farming communities in conflict with the nomadic Arab tribes over the land.
In late June and early July, hundreds of protesters camped for days outside a government building in the Central Darfur town of Nertiti to demand that the government beef up security after multiple killings and looting incidents on farmland and properties.
After Saturday’s attack on Masteri, around 500 local people staged their own protest demanding more protection.
“The escalation of violence in different parts of Darfur region is leading to increased displacement, compromising the agricultural season, causing loss of lives and livelihoods and driving growing humanitarian needs,” said the OCHA statement.