How armed groups are using fire to displace communities in Sudan’s troubled Darfur 

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Displaced people arrive in South Sudan from Sudan through the Joda border crossing. (Photo courtesy: UNHCR)
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Updated 23 May 2024

How armed groups are using fire to displace communities in Sudan’s troubled Darfur 

  • Satellite images show fires have ravaged settlements surrounding the westen city of Al-Fashir in recent weeks 
  • UN officials have accused combatants of setting fires to sow fear and ethnically cleanse tribal communities 

LONDON: Fires in western Sudan, reportedly set by militiamen, have torn through hundreds of settlements in recent months, forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes, while those who remain live in constant fear of attack.

A recent report by the Sudan Witness project of the UK-based Centre for Information Resilience found that a total of 201 villages and settlements in western Sudan had suffered fire damage since the start of the war.

April was the worst month on record, with 72 communities impacted by fires set deliberately or as a byproduct of the fighting that has raged between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces since April 2023.

The report, published on May 12, highlighted a surge in the number of fires to the north and west of the city of Al-Fashir in North Darfur State, which has seen escalating violence.

Analysts believe the fires are being set deliberately to displace the population of these areas.

“When we see reports of fighting or airstrikes coinciding with clusters of fires, it indicates that fire is being used indiscriminately as a weapon of war,” Anouk Theunissen, project director at Sudan Witness, stated in the report.

He warned that “the trend is worsening and continues to lead to the mass displacement of Sudanese people.”

Sudan Witness investigators pieced together open-source NASA satellite imagery and social media content to map the pattern of fires since the onset of the Sudanese conflict more than a year ago. They primarily focused on Kordofan and the troubled Darfur region.

Until the end of April 2024, at least 311 individual fires broke out in the two provinces. The assessment also revealed that 51 settlements of various sizes have suffered multiple fires since the war began.

Investigators have pieced together open-source satellite imagery, left, and social media content to map the pattern of fires in Kordofan and Darfur since the onset of the Sudanese conflict more than a year ago. (AFP file)

Expressing horror at the violence unfolding in Al-Fashir, UN human rights chief Volker Turk described the situation in the city as “hell on Earth” and renewed calls for the warring parties to end the hostilities.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at least 58 civilians had been reported killed and 213 others injured in Al-Fashir “since fighting dramatically escalated.”


• 201 Villages and settlements in western Sudan which have suffered fire damage since April last year.

• 311 Individual fires that had broken out until the end of April 2024 in Kordofan and Darfur.

During a press briefing in Geneva on May 17, she said “these figures are certainly an underestimate,” warning that the fighting between the two parties and their allied armed militias was taking “a deeply devastating toll on civilians.”

She said Turk had held phone conversations with both sides to urge them to cease hostilities, to ensure the protection of civilians, and to warn them that fighting in Al-Fashir “would have a catastrophic impact on civilians and deepen intercommunal conflict with disastrous humanitarian consequences.”

Al-Fashir, the capital of North Darfur, has been under siege by the RSF for several months, trapping an estimated 1.8 million residents and internally displaced people, according to UN figures.

This picture taken on June 16, 2023, shows bodies strewn outdoors near houses in the West Darfur state capital El Geneina. (AFP/File photo)

Anticipating the worst, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, warned in late April of a potentially imminent massacre in Al-Fashir. 

“As I’ve said before, history is repeating itself in Darfur in the worst possible way. And an attack on Al-Fashir would be a disaster on top of a disaster,” she said during the UN Security Council Stakeout on the Situation in Sudan.

“It would put 500,000 internally displaced persons at risk, people who traveled from across Darfur to seek refuge. And that’s on top of the 2 million Sudanese who call Al-Fashir home.”

Cut off from the outside world, the people in Al-Fashir are now at imminent risk of famine. Yet the UN says it has received just 12 percent of the $2.7 billion it had requested from donors to head off mass starvation.

Internally displaced women wait in a queue to collect aid from a group at a camp in Gedaref on May 12, 2024. (AFP)

Since the outbreak of conflict in Sudan last year, at least 15,500 people have been killed, more than 33,000 injured, and some 6.8 million displaced inside the country, according to UN figures.

“Half of the population, 25 million people, need humanitarian aid,” Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP news agency.

“Famine is closing in. Diseases are closing in. The fighting is closing in on civilians, especially in Darfur.”

Health infrastructure in Al-Fashir has also not been spared. On May 19, the RSF launched a barrage of artillery at the city’s Women’s, Maternity and Neonatal Hospital, injuring nine people and causing significant damage to the facility, according to the Sudan Tribune.

A recent report by the New York-based monitor Human Rights Watch accused the RSF and its allied militias of committing “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” in West Darfur.

The RSF has said its fighters are not involved in what it describes as ‘a tribal conflict’ in Darfur. (AFP file)

The report, published May 16, emphasized that the hostilities in El-Geneina alone from April to November last year left thousands dead and forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands more.

The RSF has said it is not involved in what it describes as a “tribal conflict” in Darfur. 

Even the use of fire as a weapon of war is nothing new in Sudan. The Sudan Witness project published a map in October last year plotting multiple fire incidents in the country since the start of the conflict.

The map revealed that the highest concentration of fire incidents was in the southwest of the country, with 68 villages in the Masalit-majority Darfur region having been set ablaze by the RSF and its allied militias, according to media reports.

Masalit tribes were among the rebel groups that fought the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militia — the forerunner of the RSF — during the war in Darfur that started in 2003, leading to reprisals and ethnic cleansing.

Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s minister for development and Africa, warned in December that the latest reported targeting and mass displacement of the Masalit community in Darfur “bears all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.”

Alice Nderitu, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, warned on Tuesday that Sudan is exhibiting all the signs that genocide could — and may already — be taking place.

Alice Nderitu, UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide. (Supplied)

“The protection of civilians in Sudan cannot wait,” Nderitu told a meeting of the UN Security Council. “The risk of genocide exists in Sudan. It is real and it is growing, every single day.

“In Darfur and Al-Fashir, civilians are being attacked and killed because of the color of their skin, because of their ethnicity, because of who they are. They are also targeted with hate speech and with direct incitement to violence.”

Nderitu said the burning and destruction of villages and settlements around Al-Fashir is intended to cause displacement and fear, rather than accomplish any specific military objectives.

“It is imperative that all possible actions aimed at the protection of innocent civilian populations, in Al-Fashir as in the entire territory of Sudan, are expedited,” she said. “It is urgent to stop ethnically motivated violence.”


Netanyahu criticism on US weapons deliveries ‘vexing’: White House

Updated 5 sec ago

Netanyahu criticism on US weapons deliveries ‘vexing’: White House

WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism this week over US weapons deliveries to his country is “vexing,” the White House said on Thursday.
“Those comments were deeply disappointing and certainly vexing to us, given the amount of support that we have and will continue to provide,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists.
In a video statement, Netanyahu said that while he appreciated America’s support during the Gaza war, “it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
The United States however has said that there is only one shipment of 2,000 pound bombs that is under review because of concerns about their use in densely populated areas.
Kirby separately said that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is due to meet his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer on Thursday.
Washington is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has conducted more than eight months of operations against Hamas.
The war was triggered by an unprecedented October 7 attack by Palestinian militants on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

Updated 4 min 21 sec ago

Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

“Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said
He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken“

NICOSIA: Cyprus on Thursday rejected as “groundless” allegations by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement that airports on the east Mediterranean island might be used by Israeli warplanes if the Israel-Hamas war spreads.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in a televised address on Wednesday threatened Cyprus in the event that total war erupts in the region.
“Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war,” he said, referring to Hezbollah.
The government in Nicosia swiftly denied any Cyprus military involvement in Israel’s war against Hezbollah ally Hamas.
“Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis told state radio on Thursday.
He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken.”
The island is home to two British military bases, but these are on sovereign UK territory and not controlled by the Cyprus government.
The British Akrotiri air base on the south coast has been used by the Royal Air Force which has joined the US Air Force in targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen who have attacked shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
The Houthis say they are doing so in solidarity with the Palestinian Hamas movement.
Over the past decade, Cyprus has built stronger ties with Israel, particularly in the search for new energy sources and in tourism.
Cyprus is the European Union’s easternmost member, and is less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Lebanon.
President Nikos Christodoulides has denied there has been any Cypriot involvement in the Israel-Hamas war except as “part of the solution” as a staging post for humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip via a maritime corridor.
“Cyprus is not part of the problem. As it is widely acknowledged, its diplomatic footprint is part of the solution,” government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis added in a separate written statement on Thursday.
“Any public allegations that refer to an involvement of Cyprus through its infrastructure or its territory in the event of a confrontation that relates to Lebanon are totally groundless,” the statement said.
“Cyprus has never facilitated and will not facilitate any aggressive action or attack against any country.”
On the street, reactions to the Hezbollah leader’s remarks were mixed.
“It’s a very tense moment all over the world,” Brazilian tourist Glaussia, 54, told AFP, not giving her last name.
She added that it was important that “everybody make an effort for peace.”
Nicosia resident Costas stressed that his country’s only involvement in the current conflict was to provide “humanitarian help to the people over there.”
He said the government would not become involved in the war in any military capacity.
“Cyprus is a credible enabler of stability, and an acknowledged regional hub for humanitarian operations, based on excellent relations with all the countries in the region,” government spokesman Letymbiotis said in his statement.

UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

Updated 20 June 2024

UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

  • The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel
  • The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah

GENEVA/LONDON: A group of United Nations experts on Thursday warned arms and ammunitions manufacturers against taking part in the transfer of weapons to Israel, saying it could make them complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law.

The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel, “even if they are executed under existing export licenses.”

“These companies, by sending weapons, parts, components, and ammunition to Israeli forces, risk being complicit in serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian laws,” the experts said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Israel which has repeatedly denied carrying out abuses during its Gaza operations, saying it is acting to defend itself and is fighting Hamas militants, not the Palestinian population.

The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.

“In this context, continuing arms transfers to Israel may be seen as knowingly providing assistance for operations that contravene international human rights and international humanitarian laws and may result in profit from such assistance,” the experts said.

Israel has rejected the genocide accusations as false and grossly distorted.

Also on Thursday, British weapons manufacturers were warned that their selling of military equipment to Israel could lead to criminal charges for failing to prevent war crimes amid the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Four anti-arms trade campaign groups, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), highlighted “potential criminal liability for atrocity crimes currently taking place in Gaza” in a letter to 20 UK firms who contribute parts or software used in F-35 fighter jets being used by the Israeli air force to bomb the Hamas-held Palestinian enclave.

The letter cited a section in the 2001 International Criminal Court Act, where it is states it is an offense under English and Welsh law “to engage in ‘conduct ancillary’ to a war crime or a crime against humanity” in foreign jurisdictions.

The firms targeted by the activists include the UK arm of Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, the Guardian reported.

The UN human rights office said on Wednesday that Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict. Israel dismissed the findings as flawed.

Israel’s air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.

Israel launched its assault after Hamas fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

* With Reuters

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Updated 20 June 2024

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

  • Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed
  • A source close to the group told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike

BEIRUT: Hezbollah said it fired “dozens” of rockets into northern Israel Thursday in retaliation for a deadly strike in south Lebanon, a day after a fiery speech from the group’s leader.
Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese movement allied with Hamas, have traded near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel which triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
Fears of a regional war rose after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Wednesday “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of all-out war against his group, and threatened the nearby island nation of Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
Hezbollah on Thursday said that “in response to the assassination that the Israeli enemy carried out in the village of Deir Kifa,” fighters targeted an Israeli barracks “with dozens of Katyusha rockets.”
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) had reported one dead after an “enemy drone” struck a vehicle in south Lebanon’s Deir Kifa area.
Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed. A source close to the group, requesting anonymity, told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike.
The Israeli military said an air strike “eliminated” a Hezbollah operative in the Deir Kifa area, saying he was “responsible for planning and carrying out terror attacks against Israel and commanding Hezbollah ground forces” in south Lebanon’s Jouaiyya area.
Elsewhere, Israeli fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah surface-to-air missile launcher that posed a threat to aircraft operating over Lebanon,” the army statement added.
The exchanges between the foes, which last went to war in 2006, have escalated in recent weeks, and the Israeli military said Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
After the Hezbollah leader’s threats against Cyprus, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Thursday that “relations between Lebanon and Cyprus are based on a rich history of diplomatic cooperation.”
Contacts and consultations continue between the two countries “at the highest levels,” a foreign ministry statement said, without making specific reference to Nasrallah’s remarks.
In a conversation with his Cyprus counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib expressed “Lebanon’s constant reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting regional stability,” the NNA reported.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides had denied his country’s involvement in the war and said it was “part of the solution.”
The cross-border violence has killed at least 479 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

Updated 20 June 2024

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

  • Grandi said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access
  • The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said

JUBA: Humanitarian access to war-torn Sudan remains woefully “insufficient,” raising the risk of starvation among its population, Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned.
War has raged since April 2023 between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than ten million people, according to the United Nations.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Grandi, who leads the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access.
“We are asking all the parties to give access to humanitarians because our presence there is insufficient to help the people in need, and especially to bring the food and the other supplies that are needed for people that otherwise risk starvation,” he said.
Aid workers were able to get “a bit more” access than before, due to “insistence... on the part of the international community,” said Grandi, during a visit to South Sudan, which has seen a huge influx of returnees from Sudan since April last year.
The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said, “because otherwise we risk having more displacement, and even worse, we risk seeing people dying of hunger.”
“I am very worried because I was hoping at the beginning like many Sudanese did, that this would be a short-lived conflict.”
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Christos Christou, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, on Thursday described Sudan as “one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate.”
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he said on X.