On January 15, 2016, the government of Sudan renewed heavy air raids and shelling of civilian areas in Jebel Marra, Darfur. Radio Dabanga, one of the last independent reporting agencies operating in Darfur, has reported that 34 villages have already been abandoned as thousands of families flee into mountain caves.
Government-backed militias are also reportedly blocking roads that would allow civilians to flee Jebel Marra, effectively leaving the majority of the population trapped as government forces attack the area.
Government troops and rebels have been battling around the mountainous Jebel Marra area straddling Central, South and North Darfur states for years. The area is seen as a stronghold for rebels battling the regime of President and indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir. The rebel uprising in Darfur began in 2003 after years of severe oppression of Darfuri communities by the Bashir regime. The government's response to the uprising has been widely described as a genocide against Darfuri tribal groups.
The situation in Jebel Marra has quieted down in recent months as part of a widespread ceasefire that extended into South Kordofan and Blue Nile states as well. But renewed government attacks in Jebel Marra match an uptick of aerial bombings and shelling in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states as well.
Even if the roads leading out of Jebel Marra were not being blocked by pro-government militia, there are virtually no safe places for civilians seeking safety to flee to. In Nierteti, Central Darfur, the market has been closed for a week because of the proliferation of militiamen on the streets, which has forced people to stay in their homes. The internally-displaced persons (IDPs) camps north of Nierteti are also frequently attacked by pro-government militias. UN peacekeepers only patrol the camps a few hours a day. Residents report that when the peacekeepers leave, the militiamen return and rob people living in the camps.
The Jebel Marra area has been inaccessible to international NGOs and outside observers for years, although very rarely outside observers are smuggled in. The Sudanese government blocks organizations from entering into rebel-held areas as part of it's policy of starvation warfare that is employed in other areas of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states as well. An estimated 95,000 people reside in inner Jebel Marra behind rebel lines.
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