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Battle of Geneina

Battle of Geneina
Part of the Darfur campaign of the War in Sudan (2023)

El Geneina market after being torched in late April.
Date15 April 2023 – 22 June 2023[2] (2 months and 7 days)
Clashes: 2 November 2023 - 9 November 2023 (1 week)[3][4]
Location
Geneina (and surroundings), West Darfur, Sudan
13°27′N 22°27′E / 13.450°N 22.450°E / 13.450; 22.450
Result

RSF victory[2]

  • Initial clashes break out between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces
  • Clashes devolve along ethnic lines by 25 April, with extremely heavy fighting for the city. A shaky ceasefire is held on 2 May.
  • Fighting resumes on 12 May and ends on 15 May, after RSF and aligned militias attack the city.
  • The city comes under siege by RSF and aligned militias by early June, and RSF forces control El Geneina by 22 June.
  • Geneina comes under rough clashes for 5 days after a large RSF victory in the city, but it stops. [a]
Belligerents

Masalit tribesmen
Sudanese Armed Forces

  • West Darfur Police

Joint Darfur Force[1]

Rapid Support Forces

Commanders and leaders
Minni Minnawi
Khamis Abakar [5]
Abdel-Baqi al-Hassan Mohammed 
Abdel Rahman Jumma[6]
Units involved
15th Infantry Division[7] Unknown
Strength
2,000[8] 16,000[9]
Casualties and losses
4+ killed
17+ injured
3+ captured[1]
Unknown
5,000+ civilians killed (between 24 April and 24 June)[10][11][2]
370,000+ refugees[10][12][13]
Battle of Geneina is located in Sudan
Battle of Geneina
Location within Sudan

The Battle of Geneina, also known as the Geneina massacre, was a battle for control of Geneina, the capital of West Darfur in Sudan, between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). By 25 April 2023, fighting intensified and devolved along tribal lines, with Masalit and non-Arab peoples supporting the SAF and the aligned Joint Darfur Force—consisting of former rebel groups including the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement—against the RSF and allied Arab militias.

Thousands of civilians and soldiers were killed after the fighting broke out, and humanitarian organizations have equated indiscriminate civilian killings throughout the battle to the Rwandan genocide. The Rapid Support Forces captured the city on 22 June, and reports emerged of ethnic cleansing of non-Arab civilians in the city. Over 1,000 bodies have been discovered in dozens of mass graves since August 2023, primarily of Masalit and Burgo civilians.[14]

On 4 November 2023, the Rapid Support Forces reportedly captured a Sudanese Army headquarters in Geneina.[15]

Background

War in Darfur

In 2003, war broke out in western Sudan's Darfur region between the government-sponsored, predominantly Arab Janjaweed militia aided by the Sudanese Armed Forces against the predominantly non-Arab Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement, after SLM and JEM launched attacks against the Sudanese government and accusing them of genocide.

On 25 March 2003, the rebels seized the garrison town of Tine along the Chadian border, seizing large quantities of supplies and arms. Despite a threat by President Omar al-Bashir to "unleash" the army, the military had little in reserve. The army was already deployed in both the south, where the Second Sudanese Civil War was drawing to an end, and the east, where rebels sponsored by Eritrea were threatening a newly constructed pipeline from the central oilfields to Port Sudan.

El Geneina, as the capital of West Darfur, saw an extensive amount of violence, due to its location as the sultanate of the Masalit people.[16] The city had a population of 250,000 in 2008.[17]

In 2020, the war came to an end after several rebel groups signed a peace treaty with the Sudanese government following the Sudanese Revolution and the ousting of Omar al-Bashir. In the process, the Janjaweed restructured itself into the Rapid Support Forces, although many Darfuris still call it the Janjaweed.[18]

Pre-War attacks on Geneina

During the summer of 2020, Geneina and its surroundings were attacked killing civilians and injuring several. This affected the entire region causing a displacement crisis within Darfur.[19][20] In April 2022, fighting in West Darfur resumed, killing about 300 people mainly in Geneina.[21]

War in Sudan (2023)

Geneina was considered strategic due to its location in Darfur, the city pre-war housed around 540,000 civilians. [b][22] The city also had the largest Masalit population in the entire region, making it a target for the RSF who were aligned with Arab tribesmen. Geneina was also a hub for the Sudanese Armed Forces, who used the Geneina Airport and bases around the city, it remained a large location for West Darfur and Chadian civilians who had almost no access to food or education due to the deserted regions.[23]

In early 2023, tensions rose between the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by the 2021 coup leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by Hemedti, remnants of Omar al-Bashir's Janjaweed that committed ethnic cleansing against non-Arab tribes in Darfur. These tensions came to a head on 15 April, when RSF forces attacked Sudanese forces in Khartoum, Merowe, and several cities across Darfur, including Nyala, El Fasher, and Geneina.[24][25]

In Geneina, West Darfur governor Khamis Abakar declared a state of emergency on 10 April due to the killing of three people by the Sudanese Alliance, a militia led by the governor.[26] Clashes between Arabs and non-Arabs also broke out in Foro-Baranga, on the border with Chad, on 13 April, leaving 24 people dead.[27]

After the battle, investigations, and interviews with civilians who survived the battle were carried out. Mass graves are still being found with thousands possibly dead due to the massacre.[28]

Battle

Initial clashes (15–17 April 2023)

The battle in Geneina broke out on 15 April 2023, and took place in the western part of Geneina.[29] The initial clashes lasted for an hour and a half, according to a Masalit tribal leader, and ended at noon.[30] Civilians began sheltering in their homes, and the Masalit leader stated the situation in the city was "turbulent and unstable".[30] Clashes continued into the next day, but little is known about them.[31] The Rapid Support Forces claimed late in the night of 16 April that they had captured the Geneina Airport, but this was impossible to verify at the time.[32] A nationwide ceasefire, originating in Khartoum, also failed to hold up in Geneina on 16 April.[30]

By 17 April, the El-Geneina hospital had closed due to the fighting.[33] At the time, the death toll and exact location of fighting in Geneina were impossible to verify, due to fog of war, and the fogginess of the sides.[34] While some sources stated fighting broke out between the SAF and RSF, others claimed clashes were actually between Arabs and the non-Arab Masalit.[citation needed] Ahmed Gouja, a journalist in Nyala, corroborated the claims of the Arab-Masalit clashes, and that civilians had stolen weapons from the police station to protect themselves and their neighborhoods.[35] OCHA reported that UN offices were being looted in the city, and markets, homes, and offices of other humanitarian organizations were being torched.[citation needed] On 23 April, Sudanese Armed forces attempted to recapture parts of the city from the RSF, but were pushed back into the army headquarters.[36]

Clashes intensify and tribal alliances form (24 April–2 May 2023)

On 25 April, clashes intensified starting in the al-Jamarik neighborhood.[30] In the al-Jabal neighborhood, where Arab militiamen attacked the headquarters of the joint Sudanese-Chadian forces and stole about eleven armored vehicles. Arab militiamen also attacked municipal and state organizations, including the town's police headquarters, market, and bank.[37] The fighting on 25 April began when Sudanese Alliance fighters attacked RSF bases in El Geneina.[37] Volker Perthes, the UN representative to Sudan, released a statement that day claiming that tribal leaders in El-Geneina began mobilization campaigns.[37] Perthes also stated militias from Central Darfur and North Darfur were joining fighting in El-Geneina. The Darfur Bar Association stated that 25 people were killed on 25 April alone, and thousands of refugees had fled to Chad.[38] The UN Human Rights organization claimed over 96 people were killed.[39] The Deputy Police Director of West Darfur, Brig. Gen. Abdel-Baqi al-Hassan Mohamed, was killed in the fighting as well.[40]

Residents of El-Geneina claimed they saw "pick-up trucks full of dead people".[40] One resident, speaking to the BBC, claimed RSF soldiers burnt down all refugee camps in and around the city, and that fighters were attacking houses with rockets.[40][41] Community leaders in the city also stated that gunmen attacked displaced refugees in the center of the city, including the Abuzar refugee camp.[42] Médecins Sans Frontières released a statement claiming that the El Geneina Teaching Hospital was looted by militants on 28 April, and the organization deplored the looting.[43] Many hospitals have closed due to being looted, while ambulances and paramedics are frequently attacked. The few hospitals that have remained open reported a lack of blood for transfusions and concomitant equipment, intravenous fluids and general medical supplies.[44] Yousra Elbagir, in an interview, stated that UN offices evacuated foreign nationals in the city but left behind Sudanese nationals.[30] On 27 April, RSF militants launched a large attack on Masalit and SAF positions in the city. Around 6 am, heavy fighting broke out in the al-Majlis neighborhood, and quickly spread across the municipal headquarters of the city, according to the Dar Masalit Union.[45] These clashes continued into 28 April, and fighting was fierce in all neighborhoods of the city. There was no power, and hardly any telecommunication, in Geneina after 25 April.[46] Child soldiers also appeared, as civilians began picking up arms against both sides in late April. Masalit civilians were also accused of looting the police station's armory, and stealing 7,000 weapons.[47] By 1 May, the death toll in El Geneina had risen to over 180 civilians killed, with one doctor estimating over 191 killed.[48] The UN reported that by 10 May, over 450 people had died in the fighting, and between 7,500 and 12,000 sought refuge in a SAF military base.[49]

Clashes had paused by 2 May, after intervention by tribal administration leaders and South Darfur governor Hamid al-Tijani Hanoun paused fighting between the RSF and SAF in the city.[47] The truce did not account for tribal divisions, and was consequently shaky. Afterward, the only hospital working in the city was Kreinik Hospital, as the El Geneina Teaching Hospital was decrepit and the city's Ministry of Health was torched.[50] Almost every market, with the exception of a few smaller ones in the north of the city, were either ransacked or abandoned, causing hyperinflation on the cost of goods. Most residents sought refuge in the al-Salam neighborhood, one which was not heavily affected by fighting.[50] Power in the city had been cut off since 24 April.[51]

Third battle for the city (12–15 May 2023)

Fighting broke out a third time on 12 May, after RSF-aligned militias attacked civilian militias near Zalat Street.[52][53] The Sudanese Doctors' Syndicate stated that the death toll of the attacks was 280 killed and over 160 wounded, with that number due to rise as fighting continues.[54] On 14 May, the neighborhoods of al-Buhaira, al-Thawra, al-Tadamon, al-Majlis, and al-Madares were caught in the crossfire.[55][56] In an attempt to alleviate the fighting, West Darfur governor Minni Minnawi announced the creation of a "Joint Darfur Force" composed of the rebel movements that signed the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement.[57] The Sudanese Women of Change organization, based in Darfur, called the situation in El Geneina a "Rwandan genocide scenario".[56]

By 16 May, residents in El Geneina stated that the internet was only available during the day and that power outages, food shortages, and water shortages were continuous.[58] Civilians who took up arms stated that the fighting was extremely intense, and many neighborhoods launched civilian patrols that worked 24-hours a day to combat the RSF attacks.[16] In the fighting, the city's main imam, Muhammad Abdel Aziz Omar, was killed.[59]

They're [RSF] just shooting everywhere. If you go outside, you'll be killed. You can't move, even 200 or 300 metres."

— Mohammed Ibrahim, civilian patrol, [60]

During the renewed outbreak of fighting, there were times when there were no functioning hospitals in Geneina.[61] The West Darfur Doctor's Union stated that 280 people were killed and over 300 injured between 12 and 15 May.[62][63] Following the fighting, satellite imagery showed several schools, businesses, and neighborhoods burnt out due to the clashes.[64] By 21 May, all displacement and refugee camps in Geneina were burned down.[65] Several residents interviewed by Reuters stated that RSF and Arab militiamen would occupy homes, and recalled instances were seven members of a family were killed in their house, and twelve injured people and a doctor were gunned down in a makeshift hospital.[10] After 21 May, communications blacked out in Geneina and much of Darfur region.[66] Little is known about what occurred between 21 and 23 May.[66]

“Power outages have been continuous and it is very difficult to access water. The health system is out of service completely"

— Alzahawi Idriss, Geneina civilian

By May 17, the Sudanese Doctors Union had reported around 200 dead with hundreds injured, with civilians by then stating that conditions on anything in the city had worsened in the past few days.[67]

Siege of El Geneina (24 May–22 June 2023)

On 24 May, an SLM-MM[c] source in the Joint Darfur Force announced that a JDF convoy headed to Geneina, backed by the Sudanese Armed Forces, was ambushed by RSF troops and aligned Arab militias.[1] Four JDF troops were killed, seventeen were injured, and three were captured, although the convoy was able to make it into Geneina.[1] In late May, attacks took place along the outskirts of Geneina, with RSF-aligned militias attacking the towns of Misteri and Kulbus.[12][68] Most refugees from Geneina and its surroundings, which by late May numbered 370,000 people, fled to the city of Adré, in eastern Chad.[69] Chadian authorities also set up refugee camps in Abdi, just across the border from the Sudanese town of Beida. The Abdi camp held 25,000 refugees in the first weeks of creation.[70] Many civilians were unable to go across the border, due to RSF control of the road linking Chad and El Geneina.[71]

By 4 June, all hospitals in the city were closed due to the fighting.[72] Communications were still blacked out, although the Internet worked briefly in the city on 1 June.[68] Médecins Sans Frontières stated that by June, it was impossible to collect bodies of dead civilians and soldiers, and that many bodies were either left in the streets or piled up in one place.[69] The only two functioning markets left in the city were the El Zariba and El Ardaiba markets.[71] On 5 June, Abdelkaleg Arbab, a lawyer working for the Darfur Bar Association, was killed along with eight members of his family during an attack on his house in the El Shati neighborhood, and another lawyer named Mohamed Ahmed Kodi was killed in an attack.[11][73] The Darfur Bar Association stated that Arbab and Kodi were killed for their work in prosecuting war crimes against internally displaced refugees from the War in Darfur.[11] Several other prominent lawyers and human rights defenders were killed that same day in El Geneina.[70]

RSF forces attacked southern and eastern El Geneina on 7 June, after gathering forces from other cities in West Darfur. The clashes lasted until 9 June.[74] On 6 June, West Darfur deputy governor El Bukhari Abdullah stated 850 people were killed and over 2,000 injured since fighting broke out in the city on 15 April.[11] This number increased to 1,100 total people killed, according to local doctors in the city.[70] Because of the targeting of journalists in Geneina, little is known about the aftermath and timeline of the 7–9 June RSF attack.[75] One of the most prominent journalists in the city, Enaam El Nour, was abducted by unknown perpetrators in early June.[76] By mid-June, El Geneina was under a near-complete siege by the RSF and allied Arab militias.[77]

Killing of Khamis Abakar

Killing of Khamis Abakar
Part of the 2023 Sudan conflict
LocationGeneina, Sudan
Date14 June 2023
TargetKhamis Abakar (Governor of West Darfur)
Attack type
War crime and assassination
PerpetratorsAbdel Rahman Jumma (RSF)

On 14 June, an RSF shelling of the El Jamarik neighborhood killed seventeen civilians, including relatives of the Dar Masalit sultan.[76] One of the relatives killed was Dar Masalit emir Tariq Abdelrahman Bahlredin.[77] 37 others were wounded in the attack.[76] West Darfur governor Khamis Abakar denounced the situation as a genocide on 13 June and stated the Sudanese Army was not leaving the army base to help civilians.[78] In response, the RSF called the battle of El Geneina a "tribal conflict".[78] On 15 June, Abakar was tortured and executed by alleged RSF militants, led by Abdel Rahman Jumma, for his statement two days prior.[5] The RSF blamed Sudanese forces for Abakar's killing, despite video evidence showing RSF soldiers assaulting Abakar. Masalit activists claimed Abakar was killed after he refused to retract his statements about genocide in El Geneina.[79] The head of the JEM, Mansour Arbab, accused Jumma of the killing of Abakar, along with the Joint Darfur Force. Minni Minnawi, leader of the JDF, deplored the killing but did not accuse the RSF.[79] Later, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights deplored the killing.[80]

RSF victory

On 22 June, the Darfur Bar Association reported that El Geneina had "fallen to the RSF", citing reports from Sudanese refugees on the Chadian border.[2] The association claimed that despite a small garrison of Sudanese Army forces holed up in the city, the RSF, led by Jumma, were in control of the region and its surroundings.[2] The last remnants of the SAF garrison, consisting of the 15th Division, fled Geneina on 4 November. They left hundreds of troops and large amounts of weapons behind; their escape marked the final victory of the RSF in Geneina. The remaining anti-RSF forces in and around Geneina subsequently disintegrated, either also fleeing or being captured.[7]

Genocide allegations

El Geneina massacre

El Geneina massacre
Part of Battle of Geneina
LocationGeneina, West Darfur, Sudan
Date13–21 June 2023 – November 2023
TargetMasalit and Burgo civilians
DeathsAt least 3,000 (possibly over 10,000)
PerpetratorRapid Support Forces

On 13 July 2023, a UN investigation discovered a mass grave of 87 individuals, all Masalit civilians, near Geneina.[81] The civilians were allegedly killed by the Rapid Support Forces between 13 and 21 June.[82] Many of the dead were from the city's el-Madriss and el-Jamarik neighborhoods.[82] Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, deplored the killings and stated that the UN was not allowed access to the site until July.[82]

During an attack on 19 June 2023, emir Badawi Masri Balhredin, cousin of the Dar Masalit sultan, was killed by the RSF.[83] Several other prominent people were killed in attacks on 19 and 20 June, including Sadig Haroun, the Commissioner of Humanitarian Aid in the city, and several mayors and imams.[84] The Darfur Bar Association reported the next day that the refugee camps of Kreinik and Sirba were under siege by the RSF. All makeshift shelters and refugee camps had been burned down by 20 June.[84] Numerous villages, neighborhoods, and cultural sites in and around Geneina were destroyed, including the city's Grand Market and the palace of the Masalit Sultanate.[84]

On 22 June, the Dar Masalit Sultanate also released a statement claiming more than 5,000 civilians had been killed between 24 April and 24 June, the majority of whom were non-Arabs.[2] The Sultanate called the situation a "genocide", and footage emerged of corpses being used as barricades, and the bodies of men, women, and children strewn across the streets.[2] Refugees from West Darfur speaking to Al Jazeera in late June corroborated these claims, adding that similar situations unfolded in the West Darfur towns of Misteri, Konga Haraza, and Tendelti between April and June.[85] The RSF also attacked civilians in June on the road between Geneina and the Sudanese-Chadian border.[85] Many of these killings were at RSF checkpoints, where a pregnant woman was killed by militiamen for not having enough money for passage.[86] A Geneina refugee stated that "the road along El Geneina and Adré has a lot of bodies, nobody can count them".[87] Another source claimed over 350 people were killed on the road alone.[88]

While Masalit people were often the target of Arab militiamen, refugees claimed the militiamen shot at anyone black.[87] Prominent civil society members, including lawyers, humanitarian officials, and more, were targeted by militias and the RSF after and during the fall of the city.[89][90] The Darfur Bar Association called the ethnic cleansing "a full-scale genocide".[89] The United Nations released a statement on 24 June deploring "wanton killings", but did not mention perpetrators.[91]

On 12 August, a representative of the Masalit tribe, El Farsha Saleh Arbab Suleiman, gave a press conference in Port Sudan in which he accused the RSF of seeking to conceal evidence of crimes committed in Geneina by burying bodies in hidden locations and forcing the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS) to hand over bodies.[92] The Coordination of Resistance Committees confirmed the reports of the mass graves and said that, as of 16 August, several bodies were still on the roofs of houses or inside buildings.[93] More than 1,000 bodies were found in 30 more mass graves on August 15.[94] In an interview with AllAfrica, Masalit civilians in Adré recounted their experiences in the city, including the killing of a large group of displaced Masalit civilians within the city.[95] Masalit Sultan Saad Bahar el-Deen stated around 10,000 people from his community were killed by the RSF.[96] In CNN interviews on August 16, which included photos collected while the massacres were occurring, the last count of killed civilians was 884, and after June 9, it became uncountable, and that the town was a "ghost town".[97] Civilians also stated that young Masalit children were massacred by the RSF.[97]

Photos from the massacre showed several bodies in a pile in an abandoned and destroyed road in Geneina. A civilian stated that "bodies littered the street from Geneina Teaching Hospital to the southern parts of the city."[97]

"The Rapid Support Forces, along with Arab militias, participated by providing digging mechanisms such as bulldozers and trucks – in addition to designating burial areas. Sometimes they even participated with volunteers."

— Geneina refugees

Civilians who fled Geneina in July stated many bodies had been dumped in ponds in the area of Maragibir, a town west of Geneina. They stated that some of these bodies appeared to have been dead for months and that two groups of tribes had been killed or "practically exterminated" by the RSF, those being the Masalit people and the Burgo tribes. Others added that the RSF would use volunteers and civilians to take these bodies down, especially in the northern suburbs of the city.[98]

Thirteen more mass graves were discovered on September 14 in Geneina.[99]

Ardamata neighborhood

On November 8, 2023, the Rapid Support Forces, who controlled all of West Darfur by this point, massacred between 200 and 2,000 Masalit civilians in the neighborhood of Ardamata in Geneina. It was also later reported that the RSF had raided the Ardamata IDP camp, which had been a hideout for Geneina civilians and other Darfuri since the Battle of Geneina had begun. The massacre also attributed to a rise of the ongoing refugee crisis in the country.[100]

Notes

  1. ^ The clashes killed 700 people and caused other's to be severely injured or go missing, reports of prominent Darfuri leaders are also spread around
  2. ^ The population as of September 2023 is estimated at around 160,000, after the confirmed deaths and fleeing of former Geneina civilians. Most of the population now consists of unemployed adults as the city continues to be occupied by the Rapid Support Forces.
  3. ^ The Sudan Liberation Army wing loyal to Minni Minnawi.

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Battle of Geneina
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