UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Nearly four months of brutal fighting is driving Sudan to collapse with millions of people trapped in a “humanitarian calamity” and the possibility of a new ethnic conflict spilling into the region, U.N. officials said Wednesday.
The dire briefings to the U.N. Security Council by Assistant Secretary-General Martha Pobee and the U.N. humanitarian agency’s operations director, Edem Wosornu, painted a grim picture of escalating clashes and no sign of an end to the conflict, which the government said in June had killed more than 3,000 people. No figures have been released since then.
Wosornu said the country’s descent into “a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe” has only deepened with more than 4 million people fleeing their homes and over 20 million — more than half the population — facing “high levels of food insecurity,” or serious hunger.
The fighting pits forces loyal to top army Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan against the paramilitary forces commanded by his rival, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, and clashes have continued especially in the capital, Khartoum, and nearby cities and the vast western Darfur region, which became synonymous with war crimes and genocide two decades ago.
Pobee told the council that neither side is “achieving victory nor making any significant gains,” and the Sudanese people are facing “unimaginable suffering.”
She pointed to indiscriminate and sometimes targeted attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, large-scale sexual violence and children being killed, victimized or at risk of being recruited to fight. The abduction and killing of human rights defenders in Khartoum and Darfur are also on the rise, she said.
Pobee, who is in charge of Africa in the U.N. political affairs department, called for a negotiated solution to end the war as soon as possible.
“The longer this war continues, the greater the risk of fragmentation and foreign interference and erosion of sovereignty and the loss of Sudan’s future, particularly its youth,” she said.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who chaired the meeting, said the United States was “appalled” that the U.N. special envoy for Sudan, Volker Perthes, was replaced by Pobee as the U.N. briefer after the Sudanese government threatened to end the U.N. political mission in Sudan.
She said she spoke to Perthes, a key mediator in the conflict who was declared persona non grata by the Sudanese government in June, and called its threat “outrageous” and “unacceptable.”
Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Al-Harith Mohamed told the council that “a new perspective” was needed to understand what’s going on in Sudan because viewing it as a military engagement between the rival generals and their supporters will not lead to a resolution. He claimed the conflict was the result of foreign-backed aggression supported by regional powers.
As for peace prospects, he said, multiple initiatives “cause confusion” and Sudan welcomes the African Union road map, which includes coordination between all regional and international efforts as well as the importance of an immediate and permanent cease-fire.
Pobee recalled the fighting in Darfur that began in 2003 by the notorious Janjaweed Arab militias against people of Central or East African ethnicities and warned that the current fighting, especially in West Darfur, “continues to reopen the old wounds.”
“This is deeply worrying and could quickly engulf the country in a prolonged ethnic conflict with regional spillovers,” she warned.
The U.S. ambassador told the council there were credible reports that Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces and allied militias have carried out atrocities in West Darfur, including killings based on ethnicity, widespread sexual violence and the burning and looting of homes and villages.
She called this “an ominous reminder” of the Darfur atrocities that led the U.S. to determine a genocide was taking place in 2004. And she said the United States was “gravely concerned” by the reported buildup of the paramilitary forces near El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, “which poses a threat to non-Arab populations in the area.”
The Security Council must speak out with one voice for an end to bloodshed, peace and “a future where Sudan is back on the path of democracy,” Thomas-Greenfield said.