CAIRO (AP) — The bodies of dozens of people allegedly killed by Sudanese paramilitary forces and an allied militia have been uncovered in a mass grave in West Darfur, the United Nations said Thursday.
According to “credible information” obtained by the U.N. Human Rights Office, at least 87 people — some of them from the ethnic African Masalit tribe — were killed by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and an affiliated Arab militia. Their bodies were dumped in a one-meter (around three-foot) grave just outside the West Darfur city of Geneina, the agency said.
Sudan has been rocked by violence since mid-April when tensions between the military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces erupted into open fighting.
Darfur has been one of the epicenters of the 12-week conflict, morphing into an arena of ethnic violence with the paramilitary troops and allied Arab militias attacking the Masalit and other African ethnic groups.
The first 37 bodies were buried in the shallow grave on June 20, the U.N. agency said in a statement from Geneva. The next day, another 50 bodies were dumped at the same site. Seven women and seven children were among those buried.
RSF and Arab militia forced local residents to bury the bodies, the U.N. agency said. The killings took place between June 13 and June 21 in the Al-Madaress and Al-Jamarek districts of the city, following the violence that erupted in the aftermath of the assassination of West Darfur’s governor, it added.
The governor, Khamis Abdalla Abkar, had accused the RSF and allied militias of attacking local communities across Geneina in an interview with Saudi-owned television station, Al-Hadath. Hours later he was abducted and killed under circumstances that remain unclear.
Over the past two months, the paramilitary and their allies rampaged through West Darfur, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, rights groups say. Just over 238,000 people have crossed the border into neighboring Chad, according to recent figures from the International Organization for Migration. Amid the pillaging, entire towns and villages in the province of West Darfur have been burned to the ground and looted.
News of the mass grave comes just days after Human Rights Watch called for the International Criminal Court to investigate atrocities in Darfur. In highlighting its call, it pointed to the “summary executions” of at least 28 Masalit tribesmen at the hands of RSF and allied Arab militias in the town of Misterei, also in West Darfur province.
The New York-based rights group said that several thousand members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and their allies rampaged through Misterei on May 28 armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, before slaughtering its Masalit male inhabitants. A total of 97 people were killed in the attack, it said.
Darfur had been the scene of genocidal war in the early 2000s, when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum of discrimination. Former dictator Omar al-Bashir’s government was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes, known as Janjaweed, who targeted civilians.
JanJaweed fighters were folded into the RSF.
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report from Geneva.