KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A total of 221 people died in tribal fighting and other violence in Sudan’s Darfur in June, peacekeepers said on Sunday, as the region’s two main rebel groups continued to shun peace talks.
Violence has spiked in the arid western territory since the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) suspended its participation in negotiations in Qatar in early May.
The fighting, which first surged in 2003 when mostly non- Arab rebels took up arms demanding more autonomy, has persisted in the face of a series of failed ceasefires and diplomatic pressure from Washington and other powers.
“After assessing security reports for the past month, UNAMID estimates the number of fatalities due to armed conflict and criminality in Darfur in June to be 221,” the joint U.N./African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force said in a statement.
Recent death tolls have been much higher than last year — UNAMID recorded 67 violent deaths in October and 16 in June 2009. In August last year, departing UNAMID commander Martin Luther Agwai said the region was no longer in a state of war.
The recent surge has been fueled by an increase in clashes between rebels and government troops, together with tribal tensions not directly linked with the conflict.
Nearly 140 of the June deaths were caused by long-running feuds between the rival Arab Rizeigat and Misseriya groups, UNAMID said. However, tribal fighting had dwindled after leaders of the two groups signed a treaty at the end of June.
The rebel Sudan Liberation Army, which started the Darfur revolt with JEM in 2003, is demanding the return of security in the region before talks and has also reported clashes with Sudan’s army in recent weeks.
Its Paris-based leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur said last week he had been holding consultations with Qatari officials but would still not go to the talks in the capital Doha because of the worsening security situation.
The Sudanese government is negotiating with the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), an umbrella group of small factions dismissed as largely bogus by the JEM.
May was Darfur’s bloodiest month in more than two years with UNAMID reporting nearly 600 deaths in rebel and tribal fighting.
Observers say the recent death tolls are still dwarfed by the early days of conflict in 2003 and 2004, when the government launched a counter-insurgency campaign that Washington and some activists call genocide. Khartoum dismisses the accusation.
Official estimates of the total death count range from 300,000, according to U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes, to 10,000 according to the Sudanese government. Both figures date back to mid-2008.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of ordering atrocities in the region.
Reporting by Andrew Heavens; editing by David Stamp