The UN on Sunday expressed deep concern over the latest deadly tribal violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, which has hampered assistance for tens of thousands of people forced to flee earlier fighting.
Residents in the town of El Sireaf said an Arab militia firing heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades burned houses and killed more than 50 people on Saturday.
The North Darfur state governor, Osman Kbir, said 51 people died and 62 were wounded, the official SUNA news agency reported.
“We are deeply concerned by the violence,” Damian Rance of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told AFP.
“It’s affected our ability to run a humanitarian operation.”
About 100,000 people had already been displaced or severely affected by battles since early January between the Rezeigat tribe and rival Arabs from the Beni Hussein group in the Jebel Amir gold mining area of North Darfur.
The violence caused the largest uprooting of Darfur’s population in years, aid workers said.
People were displaced across a wide area but most ended up in El Sireaf town, where Saturday’s fighting occurred.
Aid convoys are still moving in the surrounding area but “we don’t have access to El Sireaf town” because of the fighting, Rance said.
He added that the violence had forced some people from the town into the surrounding district while others had moved over the nearby border to West Darfur state.
A local resident told AFP that displaced people who had sought shelter on the outskirts of El Sireaf, where the heaviest fighting occurred, had moved into the town centre.
Some were simply staying in the street or under trees, he said, adding that people feared further attacks although on Sunday there were no reports of fighting.
Residents said the attackers wore uniforms and belonged to a militia of the Rezeigat tribe.
A Rezeigat source could not be reached on Sunday.
Governor Kbir confirmed that Rezeigat were responsible for the latest attack but said they had come from West and Central Darfur states.
Speaking in El Sireaf, he said security forces will “intervene strongly” to ensure peace between the two tribes.
“The situation will improve within two days. There is communication between both sides,” Kbir said.
“The government will review the humanitarian situation so as to let the NGOs do their job of delivering aid to affected people.”
On Thursday, OCHA reported that about 65,000 displaced had been given soap, chlorine and other sanitation supplies.
“Water is trucked in daily, hand pumps have been repaired, and submersible water pumps and bladders to increase access to safe water have been installed,” OCHA said in its weekly bulletin.
In late January Amnesty International said the fighting began when a Rezeigat leader, who is an officer in Sudan’s Border Guard force, apparently laid claim to a gold-rich area in Beni Hussein territory.
The violence illustrates the changed nature of Darfur’s conflict, where 10 years ago on Tuesday rebels from black tribes began an insurrection against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime.
Darfur’s top official, Eltigani Seisi, told AFP last week “the major issue” now is not rebel attacks but “ethnic violence” such as that in Jebel Amir.
He admitted that government-linked militia in North Darfur have “committed atrocities against innocent civilians” but he said the armed groups are to be disbanded.
The UN said 1.4 million people were already living in camps for the displaced before the Jebel Amir violence.