A watchdog urges UN Security Council to consider all options to protect Sudan's Darfur civilians

This is a locator map for Sudan with its capital, Khartoum. (AP Photo)

CAIRO (AP) — An international watchdog urged the United Nations Security Council on Monday to consider all options to protect civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region after the latest attacks on non-Arabs killed hundreds of civilians.

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which was born out of the notorious Janjaweed militias, has been at war against the Sudanese military since mid-April, when months of tension exploded into open fighting in the capital, Khartoum, and other urban areas in the African nation. The conflict wrecked the country and forced more than 6 million people out of their homes, either to safer areas inside Sudan or to neighboring countries.

In the first week of November, the RSF and their allied Arab militias attacked the town of Ardamata, a few kilometers (miles) north of Geneina, the provincial capital of West Darfur, Human Rights Watch said. After taking over a military base in Ardamata, the attackers rampaged through the camp for displaced people and other nearby residential areas that were all largely inhabited by the African Masalit tribe and other non-Arab groups, according to the rights group.

More than 800 people were reportedly killed in the multi-day assault, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

People who fled Ardamata described a spree of killings, shelling, unlawful detentions, sexual violence, ill treatment, and looting in the town, HRW said. The RSF and their allied militias shot at civilians as they fled, and executed people in their homes, shelters, and in the streets, they said.

A 45-year-old Masalit farmer said Arab militiamen accompanied by RSF vehicles entered the house where he was sheltering in Ardamata camp on Nov. 7. They brought seven men to the front of the house, the man told HRW.

“They told me to come out of the house,” HRW quoted the man as saying. “The moment I came out, one or two of the Arabs shot at the seven men from close range. They immediately executed them.”

Mohamed Osman, HRW’s Sudan researcher, said the attack on Ardamata was the RSF’s “latest episode of ethnically targeted killings,” which bears the hallmarks of “an organized campaign of atrocities against Masalit civilians."

“The U.N. Security Council needs to stop ignoring the desperate need to protect Darfur civilians,” he said. "Regional and international actors have ignored the alarms that survivors have raised for months on the risks of further atrocities in West Darfur.”

A spokesperson for the RSF didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment. HRW also said the RSF didn’t respond to its findings and questions.

Darfur, which was the scene of a genocidal conflict in the early 2000s, has witnessed some of the worst bouts of violence in the ongoing war. International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Karim Khan said in July they were investigating alleged new war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The RSF has stepped up its attacks across the western region in recent weeks, seizing many military bases. Fighting also intensified around a military base outside Khartoum earlier in November.

The RSF reportedly took many people captive in the Ardamata attack. Footage on social media purportedly shows fighters in RSF uniform and militiamen detaining and hitting people.

HRW said it verified and analyzed five videos uploaded between Nov. 4-5 showing a group of at least 125 men and boys being forced to run toward Geneina Airport, east of Ardamata. Several of the men were visibly wounded, some limping, while one person was carried by four other men, the videos showed.

HRW was not able to determine what happened to any of the 125 people.

“The U.N. has been sickened by a series of videos on social media which appear to have been made by RSF and allied personnel abusing captives, as well as pictures of dead bodies in the streets of Ardamata,” Toby Harward, U.N.’s deputy humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, told The Associated Press on Nov. 12.

The UNHCR reported extensive looting in the town, including U.N. humanitarian aid, and about 100 shelters were razed to the ground. At least 8,000 people have fled the town to neighboring Chad, joining at least 450,000 others, mostly women and children, who were forced out of their homes in similar attacks in West Darfur earlier this year, the agency said.

Satellite imagery taken the first week of November shows possible new graves and bodies in the street in Ardamata. Other imagery shows looting and arson in and around a camp for displaced people in the town.

“The Security Council needs to take concrete measures to address the gravity of the situation, roll out sanctions against key commanders, seek the release of those unlawfully detained, and support accountability efforts in the region,” Osman, the researcher, said.