Sudan: Desperate civilians take up arms to defend themselves against militias in Darfur
As clashes between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continue to rock Sudan, Janjaweed fighters – affiliated with the RSF – have been spreading terror in West Darfur, particularly in the city of Geneina. Several waves of attacks have been reported, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties, especially among non-Arab tribes. In the absence of military protection, some of them have taken up arms to defend themselves.
Since the start of the conflict between the armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in mid-April, civilians in West Darfur have been subjected to waves of devastating attacks by the Janjaweed, an Arab militia affiliated with the RSF.
The latest wave of attacks in the region's capital, Geneina, left at least 280 people dead and more than 300 wounded between May 12 and 15, according to the West Darfur Doctors Union. The Sudanese Army is not present on the ground to protect civilians, many of whom belong to non-Arab ethnic groups, in particular, the Masalit people who live primarily in Geneina.
For the past week, our Observers in Darfur have been sending us reports that civilians have begun arming themselves with shotguns or pistols in order to defend their homes and businesses from attacks by Arab militias.
A video from April 24 shows residents of Geneina arming themselves with weapons found stockpiled in an abandoned police warehouse.
'The financially well-off residents have been able to buy small arms to defend themselves'
Since the beginning of the conflict, Khalil (not his real name) has been working as a volunteer in Geneina, treating the injured and burying the dead. He is not surprised to see residents resorting to self-defence. For his safety, we will keep him anonymous.
Since May 12, I have attended the burial of at least 176 victims of the Janjaweed attacks. I spend every day attending to the gunshot wounds in the clinics deployed on the ground in Geneina. We have had to move some of the wounded because the artillery strikes are also targeting the clinics. We lost one of the few doctors on the ground, who was killed in one of these attacks. We are receiving bullet wounds every two hours from Janjaweed snipers who are deployed to the south and west of the city. It is becoming dangerous to move around in Geneina.
Since there is no official security presence in West Darfur, residents have sought to acquire small arms to defend their homes and businesses, which have been targeted by the Janjaweed militia, but also by RSF fighters.
It is very easy to get weapons in Darfur: you just need enough money. For example, a Kalashnikov rifle costs about $1,300 [about 1,200 euros], bullets sell for $2 [1.85 euros] each ... The financially well-off residents have been able to buy small arms to defend themselves. They cannot stand idly by because no one is protecting them.
In the video below, filmed on May 15 in Geneina, armed civilians storm a "Thatcher" vehicle belonging to the RSF ("Thatcher" is the name given to the Land Cruiser pickups historically used by the RSF in Darfur). These civilians then set it on fire, shouting "Janjaweed out of the Masalit" and hurling insults at the militiamen. Several of these civilians are seen carrying automatic weapons, including the person filming the video who appears at the beginning.
>> Read more on The Observers: Janjaweed militias rampage through Darfur, adding to conflict chaos in Sudan
Historically [under the regime of former President Omar al-Bashir], only Arab tribes could legally have weapons. Any African tribe was considered a "rebel" by the regime as soon as their leaders obtained weapons to defend themselves against the Janjaweed, and this has been the case since 2003. [Editor's note: West Darfur has been the scene of ethnic massacres under Omar al-Bashir.]
So since the fall of Omar al-Bashir's regime [in April 2019], it has become easier to arm oneself in Darfur, by getting these weapons from neighbouring Chad for example. This is necessary because the attacks have intensified, especially since the war started.
A number of agreements have been signed between the two leaders of the warring camps, Abdelfattah Al Burhan (Sudanese Armed Forces) and Mohammad Hamdan Dogolo (RSF), the latest being the "Jeddah Agreement" signed on May 12, to allow access to humanitarian teams.
However, there has been no actionable ceasefire in civilian areas since the fighting began in Sudan, making the capital of West Darfur particularly vulnerable. More than 500 people have been killed in Geneina since April 15, according to the governor of West Darfur.