Janjaweed militias rampage through Darfur, adding to conflict chaos in Sudan

The Janjaweed militia has been blamed for numerous attacks on towns in Darfur since the conflict between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began on April 15. The militia has been blamed for bombing hospitals and burning down neighbourhoods in the region, rendered particularly vulnerable by long-standing tribal tensions and thousands of internally displaced people. The chaos in the country has allowed them to carry out these raids with impunity.

A Janjaweed fighter poses with a gun in front of a burnt-out police vehicle in El Geneina on April 27, opposite the local police headquarters.
A Janjaweed fighter poses with a gun in front of a burnt-out police vehicle in El Geneina on April 27, opposite the local police headquarters. © Observers

Residents of Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, have been victim to attacks and looting by Janjaweed fighters, affiliated with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), since the start of the conflict between the Sudanese army and the RSF in mid-April. The militants have ransacked and burned down public establishments, homes, and shops in the town.

Eyewitnesses reached out to the FRANCE 24 Observers team to tell us about two waves of attacks in Geneina between April 24 and 27, which left around 50 people dead and 100 injured, according to the West Darfur Doctors' Union.

"This is how West Darfur is waking up this morning" says the source of this video filmed on the morning of April 27 in Geneina. Gunfire can be heard in the background throughout the video.

The Darfur region has been the site of a deadly conflict since 2003, when non-Arab tribes, including the Masalit, rebelled against the central government in Khartoum. The regime at the time sent paramilitary militias to violently repress the rebel populations.

Today, some of these militias operate under the banner of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), better known in Darfur as the Janjaweed. The new conflict has heightened these tensions, leading to violence between the Janjaweed and various armed militias opposed to them.

"City hospitals are still totally out of order. Volunteer doctors are trying to set up an emergency service but the electricity is out and the generators have been stolen," says a volunteer in a May 3 post that shows the extent of the damage to the hospital and blood bank.

Despite widespread internet blackouts, a few graphic and violent images taken by residents or fighters bear witness to the violence in Geneina.

'I saw people fall dead in front of my eyes'

Said (not his real name), is a resident of the Al-Jabal neighbourhood where the bloody attacks took place. For his own safety, he wanted to remain anonymous.

On April 24, at around 7:30am, the Sudanese armed forces moved from their bases in the west of the town, not far from the Chadian border, to the area around Geneina. 

That morning, vehicles from armed groups opposed to the Janjaweed, who had signed the Juba Peace Treaty [Editor's note: signed in 2020 by the Sudanese government, then a military-civilian coalition, with five armed rebel groups, including from Darfur] mobilised in the town to protect civilians against the Janjaweed. 

When these vehicles approached the army headquarters west of Geneina, they were ambushed by the Janjaweed, and fighting began near Geneina University.

This video was originally streamed live on April 24 by a resident and then reposted by a local Facebook page, while fighting between the army and the RSF is still raging in Geneina. "I had a close call with a stray bullet," said the man filming.

The fighting then moved to the south of the city, to the Al-Jabal neighbourhood, one of the most densely populated areas with ethnic disputes between Arab and African tribes. Most of the residents in this area are themselves internally displaced since the 2003 massacres.

In my family, we evacuated the women and children from the Al-Jabal neighbourhood to the north of the city, and the men stayed behind to guard the family home against looting. 

It was a bloody day, I saw people fall dead in front of my eyes.

This video, filmed on the morning of April 28, shows the extent of the damage caused by the attacks on businesses in the Geneina market. At 0:58, a corpse covered in a white sheet is seen in the street. "No one has come to pick it up yet", comments the person filming. At 6:00, ammunition shells are seen around a raided petrol station.

Late in the day, also on April 24, the armed groups withdrew, leaving civilians to confront the Janjaweed in the Al-Jabal neighbourhood in the south of the city. 

The fighting subsided somewhat over the next two days before resuming on the morning of April 27. At around 6:30am, civilians took up arms and decided to fight the Janjaweed themselves, after several repeated attacks since April 15. The fighting lasted until early evening. 

All medical facilities in Geneina were rendered inoperative: equipment was destroyed, wards were ransacked, and a doctor in the only hospital was killed in the crossfire on April 27.

A Planet satellite image shows the extent of the damage caused by the arson attacks on different areas of Geneina.

Then, at around 5:30 p.m., the rebel groups that signed the Juba agreement moved into town. 

The images of men in civilian clothes firing heavy weapons actually show fighters from these rebel groups, because the civilians only have old, light weapons. No more than fifty residents have weapons because they are expensive and generally come from the borders with Libya or Chad. These weapons are nothing like the ones used by the Janjaweed.

Video from April 26, in which Janjaweed fighters in civilian clothes and handguns are seen firing Soviet DShK-type machine guns. According to our Observer, the scene took place in the Al-Jabal neighbourhood in the south of the city.

'People were robbed at gunpoint by fighters'

The Janjaweed ransacked all the shops around the market for five days, the looting did not stop. People were robbed at gunpoint by fighters, their vehicles were stolen, houses were burned, especially those on the main roads. Even the headquarters of the Red Crescent in the south of the city was burnt down, adding to the health crisis.

In this video posted on Facebook on April 21, armed RSF fighters are seen entering a resident's house and asking him to leave.

Since April 27, the Juba agreement rebel forces have created a security cordon around public establishments and around areas affected by the violence such as Ettadhamen, Thaoura and Almadaris. They are also protecting the area around the residence of the governor of Darfur [Editor's note: himself a former member of a rebel group that signed the Juba agreement].

As of May 4, there was still no military or police presence at the Geneina market, which suffered the brunt of the damage.

This video filmed by a Janjaweed fighter on April 26 shows a second fighter posing in front of a burnt-out military vehicle.

Benjamin Strick of the NGO Centre for Information Resilience located this video here, opposite the police headquarters in Geneina.

'People are sleeping on the pavement'

Many of the displaced from the southern neighbourhoods have taken refuge in the north of the city. The streets are crowded, people are sleeping on the pavement. Volunteers are distributing food and water, but the situation is still very critical and the medical services are working with minimal resources. 

We had to clear out some residences to turn them into field hospitals, as well as emergency shelters, as a large part of the shelters, schools and IDP camps in Geneina have gone up in smoke. Displace people have also taken over the courthouse due to the lack of accommodation.

Since May 2, a sort of calm has returned to the city, with businesses cautiously resuming activity in the south of the city. There are patrols by the Sudanese armed forces once or twice a day. 

WHO and MSF warn of an ongoing 'health disaster'

At least 61 hospitals have been closed down in Sudan since the fighting began, the Sudanese doctors' union warned. Sixteen of them have been bombed, and 19 have been evacuated under threat. The RSF has looted the premises of the Central Pharmacy as well as those of the Sudanese Red Crescent, also according to the doctor's union.

As of May 2, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that the armed conflict has caused more than 115,000 people to flee the country and more than 334,000 to become internally displaced

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warn that millions of Sudanese are at risk of death due to a lack of medical facilities, in a country that already lacked health facilities before the conflict.

Several truce agreements have been reached but rarely respected since April 15, when hostilities began. The sixth truce, scheduled to last from May 4 to 11, was immediately broken the same morning, with gunfire reported in Khartoum and West Darfur.