People fleeing to Chad have reported a new surge in ethnically-driven killings in Sudan’s West Darfur as the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took over the main army base in the state capital, El Geneina.
On Tuesday, a Reuters reporter saw a trail of men crossing from Darfur into Chad at Adre, about 17 miles west of El Geneina. Three of those who fled said they had witnessed killings by Arab militias and RSF forces targeting the Masalit ethnic group in Ardamata, an outlying district in El Geneina that is home to the army base and to a camp for internally displaced people (IDP).
The RSF did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters was not able to independently verify the accounts of what took place.
Reuters has reported that between April and June this year, the RSF and allied Arab militias conducted weeks of systematic attacks targeting the Masalit, El Geneina’s majority ethnic African tribe, as war flared in the country between the RSF and Sudan’s army.
In public comments, Arab tribal leaders have denied engaging in ethnic cleansing in El Geneina, and the RSF has said it was not involved in what it described as a tribal conflict.
At talks in Jeddah, the warring parties agreed to facilitating aid deliveries and confidence-building measures, mediators said on Tuesday, but efforts to secure a ceasefire have so far failed.
The attack on the army base in Ardamata started early last week, when militiamen also started shelling homes in the IDP camp, said Nabil Meccia, a nurse who said he had crossed into Chad after being detained by the RSF at the border and paying to secure his release.
He said he had seen RSF forces killing civilians as they sprayed gunfire during raids in the Ardamata camp, and lining men up and executing them. Like others, Meccia had moved to Ardamata, where residents hoped for protection by the army, after the attacks elsewhere in El Geneina this year.
An army soldier who declined to be named, who fled the Ardamata base, said a drone attack early on Friday had destroyed its defences and that military commanders had left by Saturday morning.
As army troops pulled out of their base, community leaders in Ardamata collected weapons to try to secure safe passage for civilians, said Meccia and Sharaf Eddin Adam, another civilian refugee who arrived in Chad.
Residents with access to vehicles managed to escape, but others were arrested or forced to labour by the RSF before several dozen were lined up and executed in Ardamata’s Kobri district just after midday on Sunday, Adam said.
He said he saw dozens of bodies of civilians lying lifeless in the street and that people were also beaten and flogged.
The war in Sudan has caused a major humanitarian crisis and the displacement of more than 6 million people, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). More than 500,000 people have crossed into Chad, mostly from West Darfur, the IOM says.
Medical charity MSF said the number of refugees arriving in Chad had sharply increased in the first three days of November to 7,000. The refugees were mainly women and children, and many recounted stories of large-scale violence against civilians, it said.
U.N. officials in Chad said thousands more were expected to cross but had been prevented from doing so by RSF forces demanding money.
Another witness, Mashaar Omar Ahmed, said militia and RSF forces, some in plain clothes and some in uniform, had executed more than 30 men in Ardamata’s District B after separating them from the women.
“They asked the men if they were Masalit, and they didn’t deny it,” she said, carrying her 6-month-old daughter. She said 10 members of her family had been missing since Sunday.
Sarah Adam Idris, a 30-year-old who said her husband, siblings and other men in her family were missing after the attack, said assailants had raided the IDP camp at Ardamata on Sunday morning. Despite tribal leaders seeking assurances for safe passage the RSF had stormed, torched and looted houses, killing men, she said.
The soldier said that when he arrived at the border with Chad he pretended to be a civilian and denied that he was Masalit in order to pass. Another man was taken away after RSF border guards found a picture of him in army uniform on his phone, the soldier said.
Abdel Karim Rahman Yacoub, a truck driver who made it into Chad after pretending not to be Masalit, said he saw the RSF killing two other men based on their identity.
Army soldier Malik Adam Mattar Ibrahim, 42, said he had fled Ardamata in a convoy of at least 15 vehicles carrying fighters and civilians that the RSF attacked with rocket-propelled grenades as it tried to reach Chad along a longer route through the mountains. Only two out of 27 people packed into his vehicle escaped, he said.
Toby Harward, a senior U.N. official for Darfur, described reports and images emerging from Ardamata as “sickening”. He appealed in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, for those with authority to protect civilians and provide unfettered humanitarian access.