The mass killing might be the largest in the civil war that erupted in April, based on reports from monitors.
Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) besieged a camp for displaced people on November 2 after attacking a nearby army base in West Darfur. Over the next three days, the paramilitary group committed what may amount to the single largest mass killing since the civil war erupted in April.
Local monitors told Al Jazeera that about 1,300 people were killed, 2,000 injured and 310 remain missing.
“They went house to house to search for men and killed each one they found,” said Montesser Saddam*, who barely escaped the killing and arrived in Chad on Sunday. “There were so many corpses in the streets.”
The latest atrocities are part of a wider campaign by the RSF and its allied militias to eradicate the non-Arab Masalit tribe from West Darfur, according to activists and survivors.
Since the start of Sudan’s civil war, the United Nations and Western governments have condemned the systematic killing and displacement of the Masalit from their land. But the criticism and concern have not deterred the RSF from carrying out more atrocities.
A history of ethnic cleansing
For decades, Sudan’s central government neglected non-Arab farmers and Arab pastoralists in Darfur, pushing them to compete for fertile land and dwindling water resources.
Former President Omar al-Bashir exacerbated these tensions by pitting tribes against each other as part of a divide-and-rule strategy. In 2003, he armed Arab tribal militias and tasked them with crushing a mostly non-Arab rebellion, which started with protests against Darfur’s economic and political marginalisation.
About 300,000 people died in combat as well as from famine and disease brought on by the conflict. Rights groups and the UN accused these government-backed militias – known to victims as the janjaweed, or “devils on horseback” – of carrying out ethnic cleansing.
These same militias are now fighting alongside or under the banner of the RSF.
“They want to ethnically cleanse us,” said Nahid Hamid, a Masalit human rights lawyer who spoke to Al Jazeera from Cairo, Egypt where she now lives.
Hamid shared a video with Al Jazeera that she found over social media weeks ago that shows an RSF fighter holding a machine gun and speaking to the camera.
In the background, another fighter can be heard saying in Arabic, “Land of the Masalit? There is no more land for the Masalit.”
Tribal leaders targeted
According to a local human rights organisation, six tribal leaders and their families were killed during last week’s attack on the camp in Ardamata, a town in West Darfur.
Mohamad Arbab, 85, was one of them. RSF fighters stormed his home and killed him, his son and eight grandchildren, the group said. The Darfur Bar Association also reported that the Masalit tribal leader Abdelbasit Dina was killed with his wife, son and 50 other residents from their community.
“They want to kill [our leaders] so they can replace us with their own as well as Arabs from countries like Chad and Niger,” Hamid said, referring to the Arab mercenaries who have joined the RSF from across the region.
The RSF had previously executed the governor of West Darfur, Khamis Abubbakr, on June 16. He was abducted and killed just hours after he described the killings in his region as a “genocide” to the Saudi-television network Al-Hadath.
The United States eventually sanctioned Abdel Raheem Dagalo, the RSF’s second-in-command behind his younger brother Mohamad Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, accusing him of overseeing atrocities in West Darfur. Local RSF commander Abdul Rahman Juma was also sanctioned for his alleged role in killing the governor.
On Wednesday, the US embassy in Sudan tweeted that it was concerned about reports that the RSF appointed Juma as commander of an army garrison it captured last week.
The statement also said it heard credible reports about “serious human rights abuses” committed recently in West Darfur.
Yousif Ezat, an RSF spokesperson who has previously denied allegations that the RSF cooperates with Arab militias to commit atrocities in the region, told Al Jazeera that he cannot deny or confirm whether the group committed atrocities in Ardamata. “I saw these reports in the media, but I don’t have information,” he said. “There is no [phone network] in West Darfur, so I wasn’t able to ask the commanders what happened.”
‘One of the lucky ones’
Shortly after the killing in Ardamata began, women and children poured over the border into Chad. They joined thousands of Masalit refugees who had fled earlier killings in West Darfur over the summer.
Cynthia Mathildes, a psychologist with Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), told Al Jazeera that about 200 to 250 people were crossing from West Darfur into Chad each day.
She said women told her the camp was destroyed and many people were killed or bleeding out in the streets.
“The news caused a lot of distress and sadness among Sudanese refugees already in Chad who have relatives [in or around the camp,]” Mathildes told Al Jazeera over the phone. “Women told us that they saw so many men get beaten. The assumption was that they died.”
Local monitors said the RSF also subjected some women to sexual violence after killing the men in their families. Mathildes said the MSF could not confirm these reports but the group tells new arrivals where to seek support if needed.
She was told the RSF did not allow most men to leave the camp.
Saddam, who survived the attack, told Al Jazeera that when the RSF raided his home, he was on the street looking for a way to escape. He made a run for it, but fighters caught him and looted everything he had before letting him go.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said from Chad.
Saddam said the fate of so many people remains unknown, including many of his friends and relatives. Masalit refugees in Chad have tried to call their loved ones, but their phones are either dead or they aren’t answering.
Saddam believes they have all been killed.
“The [RSF] are targeting civilians directly,” he told Al Jazeera. “All the [Masalit] people are scared that they’ll die in a genocide.”
*Montesser Saddam’s name has been changed to protect him and his relatives from reprisals.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA