Members of Sudan’s security forces have participated in large-scale attacks that killed more than 500 people since January near a gold-rich area of the western region of Darfur, Amnesty International said.
Border Guards, part of Sudan’s military intelligence, are involved along with armed militias in the region’s “worst instance of violence in recent years,” the London-based rights group said in a statement late yesterday. Rabie Abdel Ati, a senior official in the ruling National Congress Party, denied the government ordered the attacks.
Fighting in northern Darfur began Jan. 5 when a Border Guards officer and an ethnic Rizeigat leader both laid claim to gold-rich territory in the Jebel Amer region, Amnesty said. That violence left 100 dead and forced more than 100,000 civilians to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
The latest clashes occurred on Feb. 23 when hundreds of gunmen attacked the town of El Sireaf in northern Darfur where 60,000 civilians displaced by fighting in early January had taken refuge, Amnesty said.
At least 53 people died and 66 were injured, most of them civilians. Villagers killed 17 attackers, most of whom carried government-issued identity papers that residents said identified them as Border Guards, according to Amnesty.
The attackers reportedly used heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and grenade launchers, which aren’t normally available to civilians, Amnesty said.
While state media described the clashes as between Rizeigat and Beni Hussein communities, Amnesty on Jan. 30 urged Sudan’s government to investigate eye-witness claims that security forces instigated the violence.
The ruling NCP has said government forces aren’t officially involved.
“If there are some individuals doing this, then that is something else,” Abdel Ati said today in a telephone interview. “If there is a case like this brought to the authorities then investigations will be taken.”
Insurgents in Darfur took up arms in 2003, accusing President Umar al-Bashir’s government of neglecting the region. The conflict has led to the deaths of as many as 300,000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation, and forced about 2.7 million to flee their homes, according to UN estimates.