On Saturday, the Government of Sudan (GoS) allegedly launched heavy attacks against two Darfur rebel groups in Northern Darfur, sparking off a series of heavy military confrontations. The rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement – Unity (SLM-Unity) and the United Resistance Front (URF) “claimed government and militia forces attacked their positions on Saturday around the North Darfur towns of Disa, Birmaza and Tawila, causing heavy casualties” according to the AFP. Those casualties included more than two dozen civilians, and over twice as many military. Massive displacement was reported.
This fresh series of attacks is significant in many ways: first and foremost, it resembles more closely traditional counter-insurgency campaigns, where the military targets are more the rebels than the civilians who support them, civilian casualties are a byproduct rather than the end product, and where the rebels manage to put up a substantial military resistance. It is an interesting shift in tactics, and yet civilians still suffer just as massively.
These new attacks may be linked to the fact that the new UN envoy, Djibril Bassole, is due to start peace talks soon: rebel groups allege the GoS is in a mad scramble to grab as much territory as possible by whatever means necessary before the peace talks begin, so that they sit down at the negotiations with a more powerful hand. North Darfur has potentially lucrative oil sites (such as oil Block 12A owned by the Saudi Arabian company al-Qahtani) and many key trade routes and makes it a valuable territory for the GoS to have.
The stakes are getting higher and the heat is still turning up: this week’s ongoing clashes follow on the heels of last week’s crushing attack on Kalma Camp, a camp for displaced Darfuris. Attacks on aid workers continue to increase and the UN World Food Program is crying out that if security doesn’t improve, it will have to stop delivering emergency, life-saving food to Darfuris who depend on this to food to live.
What this shows more than anything is that the international community cannot afford to lose more time and let the violence escalate on its own than it already has – and moreover, the more unstable that Darfur gets, the harder it will be for aid organizations and Sudanese to get Darfuris what they need to survive, and the more Darfuris will die from the “genocide by attrition” that the GoS started long ago.
Strategies and situations on the ground change constantly: keep your eyes and ears open for more news so we can be responsive even when the world may not be.
*Note: we are still waiting for more official confirmations of the numbers and natures of the attack: the GoS denies the attacks ever took place and UNAMID is so under-staffed that it is having a hard time managing the effects of last week’s attack on Kalma while monitoring the new attacks. This blog post will be updated as we get more information in”