More than 800 Sudanese reportedly killed this month in attack on Darfur town, U.N. says

A burned vehicle amid a desolate landscape
The ruins of a livestock market in El Fasher, capital of Sudan’s North Darfur province, on Sept. 1. Violence in West Darfur province this month reportedly left more than 800 dead.
(AFP/Getty Images)
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Fighters from a paramilitary force and their allied Arab militias rampaged through a town in Sudan’s war-ravaged region of Darfur, reportedly killing more than 800 people in a multi-day attack, doctors and the U.N. said.

The attack on Ardamata in West Darfur province earlier this month was the latest in a series of atrocities in Darfur that marked the months-long war between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, known as RSF.

Sudan has been engulfed in chaos since mid-April, when simmering tensions between military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the commander of the RSF, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, exploded into open warfare.


The war came 18 months after both generals ousted a transitional government in a military coup. The military takeover ended Sudan’s short-lived transition to democracy following a popular uprising that forced the overthrow of longtime autocratic leader Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir in April 2019.

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In recent weeks the RSF advanced in Darfur, taking over entire cities and towns across the sprawling region, despite the warring parties’ return to the negotiating table in Saudi Arabia late last month. The first round of talks, brokered by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, failed to establish a cease-fire.

The attack in Ardamata came after the RSF took over a military base in the town after brief fighting on Nov. 4 with troops there, said Salah Tour, head of the Sudanese Doctor’s Union in West Darfur. He said the military withdrew from the base, adding that about two dozen wounded troops fled to neighboring Chad.

Spokespeople for the military and the RSF didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment.

After seizing the military base, the RSF and its allied Arab militias rampaged through the town, killing non-Arabs in their homes and torching shelters housing displaced people, Tour said.

“They violently attacked the town,” he said, adding that the RSF and the militias targeted the African Masalit tribe. “They went from house to house, killing and detaining people.”

The Darfur Bar Assn., an advocacy group, accused RSF fighters of committing “all types of serious violations against defenseless civilians” in Ardamata. It cited an attack on Nov. 6 during which the RSF killed more than 50 people including a tribal leader and his family.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency said more than 800 people have been reportedly killed and 8,000 others fled to Chad. The agency, however, said the number of people who fled was likely to be an underestimate due to challenges registering new arrivals in Chad.

The agency said about 100 shelters in the town were razed and extensive looting has taken place, including the theft of UNHCR humanitarian aid.

“Twenty years ago, the world was shocked by the terrible atrocities and human rights violations in Darfur. We fear a similar dynamic might be developing,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

The U.S. State Department said it was “deeply disturbed by eyewitness reports of serious human rights abuses by the RSF and affiliated militias, including killings in Ardamata and ethnic targeting of Masalit community leaders and members.

“These horrifying actions once again highlight the RSF’s pattern of abuses in connection with their military offensives,” it said in a statement.

Ardamata is located a few miles north of Geneina, the provincial capital of West Darfur. The RSF and Arab militias launched attacks on Geneina, including a major assault in June that drove more of its non-Arab populations into Chad and other areas of Sudan.


The paramilitary group and its allied militias were also accused by the U.N. and international rights groups of atrocities in Darfur, which was the scene of a genocidal campaign in the early 2000s. Such atrocities included rape and gang rape in Darfur, but also in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Almost all reported cases were blamed on the RSF.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office said in July that a mass grave was found outside Geneina with at least 87 bodies, citing credible information. Such atrocities prompted the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to declare that he was investigating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the latest fighting in Darfur.

The conflict killed about 9,000 people and created “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history,” according to U.N. Under-Secretary-General Martin Griffiths. More than 6 million people were also forced out of their homes, including 1.2 million who have sought refuge in neighboring countries, according to U.N. figures.

The fighting initially centered in Khartoum but quickly spread to other areas across Sudan, including Darfur.

It turned the capital into a battleground, wrecking most of the civilian infrastructure, most recently the collapse of a bridge over the Nile River connecting Khartoum’s northern part with the capital’s sister city of Omdurman. Both sides traded accusations of having attacked the Shambat Bridge.