Clashes between rival groups in Sudan’s Darfur killed at least 168 people on Sunday, an aid group has said, in the latest bout of deadly violence to hit the restive region.
Darfur, which was ravaged by civil war that erupted in 2003, has seen a spike in deadly conflict since October last year triggered by disputes mainly over land, livestock and access to water and grazing.
The latest fighting began on Friday in the Krink region of West Darfur, said Adam Regal, spokesman for the General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur, an independent aid group. “At least 168 people were killed on Sunday and 98 wounded,” said Regal, voicing fears that the death toll could rise.
The violence broke out when armed tribesmen attacked villages of the non-Arab Massalit minority in retaliation for the killing of two tribesmen, the aid group said.
At least eight people were killed on Friday, it added.
On Sunday, a tribal leader from the Massalit minority described seeing multiple bodies in villages of the Krink region, which lies 80km (50 miles) from West Darfur’s provincial capital, Geneina.
Medics from the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors warned of “catastrophic” health conditions in West Darfur, saying that several hospitals were attacked in the violence.
The International Committee of the Red Cross called on authorities to ensure the safe arrival of the wounded to hospitals.
The United Nations special representative, Volker Perthes, condemned the killings and called for an investigation.
Images posted online on Sunday showed burning houses sending plumes of thick black smoke to the sky, while others showed round patches of scorched earth where huts had stood before they were set alight.
Agence France-Presse could not independently verify the authenticity of the images.
On Sunday, the aid group accused the Arab Janjaweed militiamen of orchestrating the latest attacks.
The mainly Arab militia gained notoriety in the early 2000s for its role in the repression of an ethnic minority rebellion in Darfur.
Many of its members have since been integrated into the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, the de facto deputy leader of Sudan, according to rights groups.
Regal said the militiamen had in recent weeks “committed killings, burning, lootings, and torture without mercy”.
The conflict that erupted in 2003 pitted ethnic minority rebels who complained of discrimination against the Arab-dominated government of then-president Omar al-Bashir.
Bashir’s government responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, mainly recruited from Arab pastoralist tribes, who were blamed for atrocities including murder, rape, looting and burning villages.
The fighting killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million, according to UN figures.
The main conflict has subsided across much of Darfur but the region remains awash with weapons and deadly clashes often erupt mainly over access to pasture or water.
Bashir was ousted in April 2019 following months-long mass protests against his rule. He remains wanted by the international criminal court over his role in the Darfur conflict.
In recent months, scores of people have been killed and hundreds of houses torched in several bouts of violence in Darfur, according to the UN and medics.
The latest violence has reflected a broader security breakdown in Darfur following last year’s military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, that derailed a transition to full civilian rule following Bashir’s ouster.