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Fighting erupts over Sudan's western gold mines

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 5th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

With the secession of South Sudan last year, Sudan has been left high and dry without a major oil industry. As a result, many Sudanese have turned to the lucrative practice of gold mining. This has led to increased violence, with up to 100,000 being forced to flee after their villages are burned to the ground. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - United Nations aid agencies are launching an emergency operation to help the thousands of displaced people in Sudan's Darfur region.

More than 100 tons of food and emergency aid was sent from El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur last week, to refugees fleeing the fighting in a remote desert area in the province's northwest.

Two Arab tribes, the Beni Hussein and the Northern Rezigat had begun fighting over rights to gold mines and levies on miners in the area.

Rebel groups in the area have lost their political backers in neighboring Chad and Libya, making them pursue new sources of income. Local tribes who once relied on government support now see funds drying up.

Amnesty International says that in spite of a government-brokered truce between the two tribes nearly three weeks ago, there are reports of continued attacks.

"We haven't seen sudden displacement on this scale for a few years. More people were displaced in a matter of days than were displaced during the twelve months of 2012," Damian Rance, spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Khartoum says.

More than two million people were displaced ten years ago and tens of thousands died in a complex conflict between armed rebel groups and government-backed militia in Darfur. About one million people remain to this day in camps in a region roughly the size of Spain.

More than 100 villages have been burned, causing people to run from their homes with their livestock, according to U.N. reports. The government estimates at least 100 people have been killed in the fighting so far.

Gold mining in the area has started as recently as March of last year. The Beni Hussein, who mostly rely on cattle herding, have controlled the awarding of artisanal mining licenses, according to a report released by Amnesty International.

The Beni Hussein community says that government border guards from the Northern Rezigat tribe were behind several attacks seeking to lay claim to the gold-mining area.

"There were clashes between the Beni Hussein and the Rezigat, but we were not involved," Colonel Khalid Swarmi, the Sudanese Armed Forces spokesman told Al Jazeera. He also denied allegations of government involvement.

Many refugees remain at the remote desert town of El Sireaf, which is already hosting 2,500 people displaced from the previous conflict. This sudden inundation of 60,000 more people has caused the local authorities to close all their schools as they desperately tried to find somewhere to house the displaced. Many remain outdoors in what the U.N. describes as "appalling conditions."

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