At least 230 Sudanese villagers killed in tribal attacks over disputed land | Global development

At least 230 people have been killed and more than 200 injured in attacks on villages in Sudan’s Blue Nile state over the past few days, according to authorities.

Gamal Nasser al-Sayed, the health minister in the southern state, which borders Ethiopia and South Sudan, told the Guardian that more than 30,000 people in eight villages in the Wad al-Mahi area had had to flee as their homes were torched and villagers were attacked.

Gamal Nasser al-Sayed, health minister for Sudan’s Blue Nile state.
Gamal Nasser al-Sayed, health minister for Sudan’s Blue Nile state. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

Many women and children walked for several hours to reach safety in the cities of Damazin and Roseires, on either side of the Blue Nile River.

Al-Sayed said: “It’s just heartbreaking seeing all these children and their mothers [who] had to walk for hours to take shelter at schools here. Many of them are sick with malaria and we had to ask people for donations of mosquito nets; as a ministry, we do not have enough resources to get them.”

Political unrest and economic crisis has escalated across Sudan since last year’s military coup led by the country’s army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

In the Blue Nile and West Kordofan states, tensions have been boiling over into brutal violence between communities over land disputes that have been left unresolved by central government for more than a decade. Opposing factions of the ruling party have been accused of backing and arming rival communities.

The issue of access to land is hugely important in Sudan, where agriculture and livestock account for 43% of employment and 30% of GDP, according to UN and World Bank statistics.

Abdo Yassen, 37, a government worker told how he had left everything behind in his village in order to escape with his wife and child.

“When the attackers came with cleavers to kill someone from our village, they cut him into pieces, they cut his leg, then more attackers came with guns to burn down our houses. We have nothing left, had to just go,” he said. “We left some young men to observe the village from afar so when it’s safe, people can go back.”

A woman from the same village told the Guardian by phone how people scattered in panic. Amani Ali, a mother of four, said: “I took my children and ran. We are really struggling in here. Some people went missing; we don’t know what happened to them. We just took our children and left. Some families shattered between different camps,” she said.

“We are farmers, farming fava beans, sorghum and other vegetables. Now all that’s gone,” Ali said.

The attacks over the past week were on Funj ethnic group villages, who have accused people from the Hausa ethnic group of being behind the violence.

In July, hundreds of Hausa people, who claim they have been discriminated against in how land ownership has been organised, were killed in clashes after they tried to create their own traditional leadership, a step opposed by the Funj, who see themselves as the region’s Indigenous group.

Sudanese gather in Roseires, during a previous spate of violence in August 2022.
Sudanese gather in Roseires, during a previous spate of violence in August 2022. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Observers said both sides were being supported by opposing factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North: one that signed the Juba peace agreement in 2020 and is headed by Malik Agar, a member of the ruling junta in Khartoum; and another, which refused to join the deal and is led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu.

Al-Hilu has been in control of a swathe of Sudan that is the size of Austria and borders South Sudan. He has been fighting since a previous peace effort ended in 2011.

In an interview with the Guardian, al-Hilu denied his faction had any part in the recent killings, instead blaming Sudan’s federal government for “failing to maintain the peace”.

Former Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, left, with Abdelaziz al-Hilu.
Former Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, left, with Abdelaziz al-Hilu. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“It’s the government’s fault. All these incidents are taking place in territories that are controlled by the government in Khartoum. It has nothing to do with us,” he said, speaking by phone from the town of Kauda. “It’s not new for the government to do so. They have been doing this in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and now in the Blue Nile state. They armed all these tribes.

“All the tribes are armed and incited against each other by [the] Khartoum [government] as part of a divide-and-rule policy.”

Al-Sayed also blamed Khartoum for leaving disputes between communities to fester into violence. “I am surprised by all these forces. There were many indications that a tribal conflict will take place, but they did nothing to prevent it. They came very late after all this death and misery. A lot of women are now in the hospital with third-degree burns on their bodies and forever scarred at this young age.”

Last week the UN humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, Eddie Rowe, expressed concern at the renewed fighting in the Blue Nile and West Kordofan states and appealed for an end to the violence.

At the weekend the Sudanese government said it had sent more troops to the area to de-escalate tensions between the rival communities.

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