FILE PHOTO: Protesters attend a rally calling for a stop to killing in Darfur and stability for peace, next to a building in front of Ministry of Justice in Khartoum, Sudan September 23, 2019 REUTERS
At least 56 people have been killed in four days of violence in Sudan's West Darfur region, the United Nations said Tuesday, reporting gunfire in the city of El Geneina.
Thousands are fleeing the fighting, which has seen a power station in El-Geneina destroyed, at least one rocket-propelled grenade hit a key hospital, and another smash into a UN compound, the UN said.
"The number of deaths has risen to 56 and more have been injured," the UN humanitarian coordination office said, with clashes pitting Arab groups against the non-Arab Massalit people.
"People are fleeing into neighbouring Chad," it added.
Conflict between the Massalit and the Arab communities started in mid-January, forcing over 100,000 people to flee their homes.
El Geneina, capital of West Darfur and close to the border with Chad, has seen days of fighting including gunfire and shelling, residents said.
"On 6 April, shooting continues to be heard across the town," the UN said. "The local power station was destroyed last night and there is no electricity".
The government on Monday declared a state of emergency and deployed troops to West Darfur.
- 'Dire situation' -
"This recent round of inter-communal violence further deteriorates an already dire situation for vulnerable people," the UN added.
The UN said it had suspended flights and aid operations to the city, a key hub for humanitarian assistance -- a decision the world body said would affect upwards of 700,000 people.
However, two government helicopters flew from the capital Khartoum to evacuate the wounded.
El-Geneina resident Mohamed Abdel Rahman said shooting raged for around an hour on Tuesday morning.
"There was calm overnight, but this morning we heard gunfire," he said.
The vast Darfur region was ravaged by a civil war that erupted in 2003, leaving around 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the UN.
It flared when ethnic minority rebels rose up against dictator Omar al-Bashir's Arab-dominated government.
Khartoum responded by unleashing a notorious Arab-dominated militia known as the Janjaweed from among the region's nomadic tribes.
The conflict has subsided over the years, and the latest in a string of peace deals was agreed in October.
But after years of conflict, the region is awash with automatic weapons. Clashes still erupt, often over land and access to water.
Residents long displaced during the worst years of the war are returning to find others have occupied their lands.
In January, just two weeks after a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission wound up operations, similar clashes killed more than 200 people, mostly in West Darfur.
Sudan is in the midst of a transitional period following the ouster of long-time president Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019, which happened in the aftermath of mass protests.
The transitional government has pushed to build peace with rebel groups in Sudan's main conflict zones, including Darfur.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.