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Tribal Conflict Increasing in Darfur, says Red Cross

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region between the government-backed Janjaweed militia and rebel groups has diminished. But, Red Cross officials say that conflict is being overshadowed by tribal conflicts over scarce resources.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says more than two years of fighting in Darfur has left rebel forces weakened. And, it says increasing international pressure on the Sudanese government to resolve this problem in a peaceful manner is having an effect. As a consequence, it says fighting between these groups is practically non-existent and has been overshadowed by tribal conflict.

The head of the ICRC Delegation in Sudan, Dominik Stillhart, says this is bad news for the peace process which is going on in Abuja, Nigeria. He says this process alone will not lead to tribal reconciliation.

"Tribal reconciliation on one hand is important. On the other hand, also Abuja will be important," he said. "There will have to be the two processes that will have to play together in order to find peaceful solutions for Darfur. And, I believe that this is going to take quite some time because it is a complex and complicated area. Anywhere between 30 and 90 tribes and there is very clearly great tension between many of these tribes that have traditionally been fighting for scarce resources in an area which is already a very fragile area economically speaking. "

The war has had a devastating impact on the population of Darfur. Tens of thousands of people have died. More than two million people have been made homeless and are living in camps in and around urban areas. Another 200,000 have sought asylum in neighboring Chad.

Mr. Stillhart says there is little hope that the more than two million internally displaced people living in camps will go home and plant their fields. He says this is mainly due to the insecurity that prevails in the countryside.

"This insecurity that is mainly created by this tribal conflict that has now clearly been overshadowing more and more this political conflict with some people trying to continue to put pressure on other people to leave and even not to come back," he said. "And, I think that is really creating quite a difficult situation and is in our opinion, one of the main reasons why the people do not go back."

Mr. Stillhart says there is no chance that the local economy will recover if people do not go home. He warns food shortages in Darfur will increase if, as looks likely, the crucial planting season is missed.

The World Food Program is currently feeding 2.3 million people in Sudan, most of them in the camps. The International Committee of the Red Cross focuses on distributing food aid in hard-to-reach rural areas.

The Red Cross estimates between 250,000 and 600,000 people in rural areas are in need of food aid. Based on this assessment, Mr. Stillhart says the ICRC is planning to increase its food assistance from 250,000 people to 320,000 a month.