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Sudanese fear growing violence in east of country caused by security vacuum

More than 30 people killed in recent days, sources tell MEE, as lack of police fuels feuding tribes and criminal gangs
Sudanese dockers unload a US aid shipment organised by the US Agency for International Development and the World Food Programme at Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast (AFP)
By Mohammed Amin in Khartoum

As attention has been locked on protests in Khartoum, there has been increasing violence away from Sudan's capital amid a security vacuum that tribal leaders accuse the country's ruling military council of benefiting from.

Clashes have flared in several regions of the country, particularly in the already-fragile and troubled regions of eastern Sudan and Darfur.

Eastern Sudan has witnessed escalating tribal clashes that have led to the killing of more than 30 people in recent days, medical sources have told Middle East Eye.

“More than 30 people were killed in tribal and criminal clashes in Port Sudan last week,” a source said.

The clashes that erupted between the Beni Amir and the Nuba tribes began in Port Sudan last week and spread to the cities of Khashm el-Girba and Kassala in Sudan’s east.

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The first case of tribal violence in the region was reported in early May in the city of Gedaref, where one person was killed in a clash between the tribes.

More recently, eyewitnesses said clashes broke out in Port Sudan as outlaws raided the Red Sea city’s market on 5 June.

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Osama al-Amin, an eyewitness in Port Sudan, told MEE: “Gangs suddenly attacked Port Sudan’s central market on the morning of 5 June, looting the small shops and robbing people.

“They were confronted by the police, which led to the injury of many innocent citizens,” he added.

“We don’t know where they came from and how they organised themselves to attack the people aggressively like they did, but there are rumours in the city that they have been released from the prison on that day without clear reasons,” another citizen of Port Sudan, Ahmed al-Tahir, told MEE.

“The criminals have fled to residential areas that are mainly inhabited by the Beni Amir, which provoked the Beni, leading to the injury of some people from the Nuba. Then the crisis erupted.”

Police dispersed the rioters, the sources said, before they began looting property in residential areas.

The eyewitnesses added that security in the city is deteriorating and tribal clashes have erupted in turn.

Fagiri Abdullah Fagiri, a prominent activist in eastern Sudan’s Red Sea state, said the death toll in various kinds of clashes this week has risen to over 30.

He added that the violence has sprung up in towns such as Khashm el-Girba, where one person was killed and another wounded, as well as in Kassala state near the border with Eritrea.

Fagiri told MEE it is widely believed that the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which has run the country since longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir was removed in an 11 April coup, and the agents of the “deep state” allied with it, are responsible for the tribal clashes. According to Fagiri, authorities have released criminal gangs from prisons and allowed them to run riot.

A Beni Amir tribal leader told MEE that members of his tribe who are in Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) are fuelling the crisis.

“I saw many members of the former ruling party NCP telling people that the Nuba’s sons in the national army are using their weapons to kill the Beni Amir and we should respond to defend ourselves,” the leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

Recruitment campaign

According to the leader, the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia, which is controlled by the TMC, has been conducting a wide recruitment campaign among the Beni Amir.

However, a Nuba tribal leader denied his tribe was responsible for the deaths of Beni Amri Sudanese, adding that there is an “international” attempt to push the tribes into a confrontation.

“The Nuba and Beni Amir have been coexisting for a long time and living together in many residential areas without any troubles,” he told MEE on condition of anonymity.

“These incidents coinciding with the political escalation in the country is suspicious.”

The Beni Amir are part of the Beja ethnic group that considers itself the indigenous population of eastern Sudan, while the Nuba tribe is an extension of the tribes that were living in the Nuba Mountains but displaced to eastern Sudan because of the repeated civil wars in their areas since 1983.

Salih Amar, a Sudanese political analyst specialising in eastern Sudan, noted that the tribal clashes, appearance of criminal gangs, political escalation and the security vacuum all began after the violent break-up of the anti-military rule sit-in demonstrations in Khartoum and other cities.

Amar told MEE that the absence of the police from the streets points to the TMC’s involvement in the tribal incidents.

“The fragile situation in eastern Sudan and in the entire country is making things more serious,” he said.

“The appearance of the tribal clashes in the current situation is critical, and may lead to more negative consequences and instability in eastern Sudan.”

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