KHARTOUM (Reuters) - More than 60 people have been killed in clashes between tribes in Sudan’s Darfur region over land producing the gum arabic stabilizer used in soft drinks, the latest incident in a surge in violence over resources this year.
The fluid gum cut from the acacia trees that have grown on the land for years is one of Sudan’s most important agricultural export products but part of the output is being smuggled over the border into Chad, where it is sold for hard currency.
Arab tribes, many of which were armed by Khartoum to end an insurgency by mainly non-Arab rebels, have since turned their guns on themselves to seize resources such as the gum arabic, sought by companies such as Coca Cola, and gold.
New clashes broke out between the Bani Halba and al-Gimir tribes in Katila in South Darfur, state police said late on Wednesday. They have fought several times in the area this year.
“A total of 64 people were killed and tens wounded from both sides,” police said in a statement, without giving details.
The Gimir accused the Bani Halba, the tribe of Second Vice President al-Haj Adam Youssef, of having attacked them on Tuesday with more than 30 four-wheel drive vehicles and horses to seize land where the acacia trees and other agricultural products grow.
“They are trying to take away the land which we own and where we have been living for more than 300 years,” said Abkar al-Tum, a spokesman for the Gimir tribe.
He said uniformed men with government-issued weapons had joined the attack. “The government didn’t stop the clashes,” Tum said. The local authorities and the Bani Halba were not immediately available for comment.
Law and order has collapsed across the arid western region since the mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the Arab government in Khartoum in 2003, accusing it of neglecting Darfur.
Violence has surged this year after a peak in 2004-5, and more sporadic incidents in 2011-12.
Some 300,000 people have been displaced since January across Darfur. More than 500 people were killed in clashes between two Arab tribes fighting for control of a gold mine in North Darfur in January and February.
Human rights groups and the United Nations estimate hundreds of thousands of people have died in the decade of conflict in Darfur. The government says around 10,000 people were killed.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and some aides to face charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur. They deny the charges and refuse to recognize the court.
Events in Darfur are hard to verify due as Sudan restricts travel by journalists, aid workers and diplomats.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Alison Williams