There has been a flood of heavy fighting in Darfur in the past two weeks. Large battles between a number of Darfur rebel groups and the Janjaweed/Sudanese Army have increased violence to a level the world has not seen since February of this year.
Flashback to February: “A major assault by the Sudanese army and allied militia has left two Darfur towns badly damaged by fire… The U.N.’s refugee agency said at least 12,000 Darfuris fled into neighbouring Chad to escape the violence. Residents…said 47 people were killed in one settlement alone. A U.N. assessment mission to Abu Surouj and Sirba found buildings burned to the ground and reports of sustained air and ground assaults.” – Sudan Tribune, February 12, 2008.
Just three days ago, on September 19, the UN reported that "Thousands are reported to be newly displaced by the fighting but figures are unconfirmed… The clashes have severely restricted humanitarian access to multiple locations in Darfur and the delivery of critical assistance to vulnerable beneficiaries.”
There are many parallels beginning to be drawn between February’s attacks and September’s attacks: massive civilian displacement, civilian casualties, villages being burned, humanitarian work being threatened and obstructed. In both cases the Government of Sudan claimed to be targeting rebel forces and yet ends up killing and displacing thousands of civilians.
However, there is an interesting shift in tactics: the February attacks were generally reported as the Sudanese army targeting civilians with a weak response from the rebels. The attacks in September have been reported to be the Sudanese Army engaged in battle with the rebel forces, with massive civilian displacement and death occurring on the side.
What does this mean? It means that the situation on the ground is intensifying, and civilians are not just being targeted for attacks but caught in the cross-fire of the outright battles between the Sudanese army and Darfur rebels.
The longer the world waits, the more complex and intense the situation on the ground becomes. The world needs to follow through with concrete consequences – or the consequences of our inaction will become even more difficult to repair.