A dispute over water access in the tribal areas of South Darfur, Sudan left 15 people dead at the end of December, just as the UN was widing up its 13 year peacekeeping mission in the country.
According to media reports, a firefight erupted between members of the Masalit and Fallata tribes in Gereida city over access to the Rahad Abu Dereisa water well, leaving two Fallata tribesmen dead.
The Fallata retaliated with an attack on Masalit neighbourhoods in Gereida, killing 13 and injuring 34. It is understood that Rapid Support Forces paramilitaries stationed in the area intervened to stop the fighting.
The deadly incidents occurred only days before the United Nations / African Union peacekeeping mission known as UNAMID officially ended its operations on 31 December after 13 years, handing over responsibility for protecting civilians to the Government of Sudan.
The governor of South Darfur, Musa Mahdi, subsequently confirmed the situation is now stable “thanks to the deployment of military forces.”The conflict that erupted in Darfur in 2003, resulting in a death toll estimated by the UN at 300,000, and leading to the UNAMID deployment, has largely subsided, with a transitional government in place in Khartoum and reconciliation agreements signed at local levels.
Nevertheless, sporadic tribal clashes continue – largely over land and access to water. The Fallata and Masalit tribes signed a reconciliation agreement at the end of November following violent clashes around Gereida in July and October. The recent killings are the first reported since that agreement was reached.
The UNAMID mission in Darfur, which had an authorised strength of nearly 26,000 at its inception in 2007, had just under 8,000 military and civilian personnel when its mandate ended on 31 December 2020. UNAMID repeatedly highlighted the significance of water in achieving peace in the region.
UNAMID’s withdrawal, expected to be completed within six months, is being met by protests among Darfuris still displaced by the fallout of the civil war. At one refugee camp in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, AFP reported hundreds staging a sit-in outside the mission’s headquarters at the camp, citing concerns surrounding the protection of internally displaced people (IDPs) and other vulnerable groups.