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Fires used as weapon of war in Sudan destroyed or damaged 72 villages last month, study says

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CAIRO (AP) — Fires resulting from the fighting in Sudan destroyed or damaged 72 villages and settlements last month, a U.K.-based rights group said Monday, highlighting the use of fire as a weapon of war in the conflict in the African country.

Investigators from Sudan Witness, an open-source project run by the nonprofit Center for Information Resilience, say that more blazes than in any other month since the war started in mid-April 2023. The number also brings to 201 the total number of fires in Sudan since fighting broke out between Sudan’s military and the rival paramilitary force.

The analysis didn’t provide any casualty figures from the fires.

In the war in Sudan, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have often used fire, setting entire villages ablaze, especially in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

The war has wrecked the country and pushed its population to the brink of famine. More than 14,000 people have been killed and thousands have been wounded. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

The Center for Information Resilience said the number of fires surged particularly in the north and west of el-Fasher, the capital city of North Darfur state that faces an imminent attack.

El-Fasher saw intense fighting on Friday between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary RSF and their allies. At least 27 people were killed and dozens injured, said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA. More than 800 were displaced.

Sudan’s military launched an airstrike the next day that hit close to a pediatric hospital in el-Fasher, killing two children and a caregiver, according to Doctors Without Borders.

In its analysis, the Center for Information Resilience estimated that 31 settlements — villages and towns — were affected by fires in April, with an over 50% destruction rate.

“We’ve documented the patterns of numerous fires and the continuing devastation to settlements around western Sudan, large and small,” Anouk Theunissen, Sudan Witness project director, said in a news release.

“When we see reports of fighting or airstrikes coinciding with clusters of fires it indicates that fire is being used indiscriminately as a weapon of war. The trend is worsening and continues to lead to the mass displacement of Sudanese people,” Theunissen said.

Sudan’s conflict started when tensions between the Sudanese military and the RSF broke out into intense fighting in Khartoum, the country’s capital in April last year. Clashes quickly spread to other parts of Sudan, including Darfur, which has been witnessing brutal attacks.

The Sudan Witness analysis also said that in the Sudan war, blazes have hit at least 51 settlements for displaced people more than once.

Investigators with the project examined the patterns of fires across the war-torn country by using social media, satellite imagery and NASA’s public fire monitoring data.

By FATMA KHALED
Associated Press

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