220 killed in tribal clashes in southern Sudan

CAIRO (HPD) — At least 220 people have died in two days of tribal clashes in southern Sudan, a health official said Sunday. It was one of the most serious outbreaks of violence in recent years and added to the concerns of an African country mired in civil conflict and political chaos.

Fighting in Blue Nile province, which borders Ethiopia and South Sudan, resumed this month over a territorial dispute. The conflict pits the Hausa tribe, which has its origins in West Africa, against the Berta people.

Tensions rose on Wednesday and Thursday in the town of Wad el-Mahi on the Ethiopian border, according to Fath Arrahman Bakheit, director general of the Blue Nile Ministry of Health.

Authorities counted at least 220 dead by Saturday night, he told The Associated Press, though the number could be much higher because medical teams had been unable to reach the epicenter of the fighting.

The first medical and humanitarian caravan managed to reach Was el-Mahi on Saturday night and was trying to assess the situation, Bakheit said, including counting “this huge mountain of dead” and dozens of injured.

“In these matchups, everyone loses,” he said. “Hopefully it will end soon and never happen again. But to achieve that goal we need strong civil, political and security interventions.”

Images of the place, which coincided with HPD reports, showed burned houses and charred bodies. Others showed women and children fleeing on foot.

Many homes were burned in the fighting, displacing some 7,000 people to the town of Rusyaris. Others fled to neighboring provinces, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In all, some 211,000 people have been displaced by tribal violence and other violent incidents across the country so far this year, the office added.

The authorities imposed a nightly curfew in Wad el-Mahi and deployed troops to the area. They also formed a committee to investigate the crashes, according to state news agency SUNA.

The violence between the two groups began in mid-July and had totaled at least 149 dead by early October. The clashes sparked violent protests and fueled tension between the two tribes in Blue Nile and other provinces.

The clashes came at a critical time for Sudan, just days before the first anniversary of a military coup that plunged the country further into chaos. The coup derailed the country’s brief transition to democracy after nearly three decades of repressive rule by Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in April 2019 by a popular uprising.

In recent weeks, the army and the pro-democracy movement have held meetings to seek a way out of the situation. The generals have agreed to allow civilians to appoint a prime minister to lead the country until elections in 24 months, the pro-democracy movement said last week.

However, the violence in Blue Nile is likely to complicate those efforts. Groups of protesters who rejected the agreement with the generals have called massive marches against the Army for Tuesday, the anniversary of the coup.

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