Thousands of civilians in a remote area of Sudan’s war-hit Darfur could be affected by fresh fighting between rebel and forces nearby, the United Nations said on Tuesday amid ongoing clashes.
Government troops and rebels have been battling around the mountainous Jebel Marra area straddling Central, South and North Darfur states that is seen as a stronghold for insurgents battling President Omar al-Bashir since 2003.
“Thousands of people live in this remote part of Darfur, and the protection of men, women and children is a top priority amid the chaos of fighting which could lead to widespread displacement of entire communities,” said Ivo Freijsen, the Sudan head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“The impact on civilians of the ongoing hostilities that are being reported in the Jebel Marra between government and rebel forces can only be of paramount concern to the humanitarian community here,” he said in a statement.
The clashes come despite Bashir – who is wanted on war crimes charges related to Darfur – announcing a one-month extension to a ceasefire he declared in September covering Darfur as well as the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where he faces separate insurgencies.
The UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said in a statement on Tuesday it “is still receiving reports of continued fighting between both parties in Central Darfur”.
“The fighting allegedly resulted in an undetermined number of casualties on both sides,” it said, adding that it had also received reports that houses had been destroyed in the clashes.
It said it had also received reports that government aircraft had dropped bombs north of a UNAMID base in the Jebel Marra town of Nertiti on Saturday and Sunday “leading to undetermined casualties”.
The Sudanese military did not immediately comment on the latest clashes.
Jebel Marra has been quiet in recent months, but last year it was the scene of fierce fighting between government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW).
The SLA-AW is one of the groups that rebelled against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government nearly 13 years ago, complaining that the western region was being marginalised.
Bashir unleashed warplanes, ground forces and allied militia to crush the insurgents and was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for alleged war crimes in the region.
More than 300 000 people have been killed in the fighting since 2003, and there are some 2.5 million people displaced by the fighting living in Darfur, according to the UN.
UNAMID deployed to Darfur in 2007 to protect civilians and secure humanitarian aid deliveries.