Surrounded by Fighters and Haunted by Famine, Sudan City Fears Worst

Fears of renewed ethnic slaughter in the Sudanese region of Darfur, where genocidal violence killed as many as 300,000 people two decades ago, have soared in recent days, with a looming assault on an embattled city that is already threatened by famine.

The contest for control of El Fasher, the last city held by Sudan’s military in Darfur, has prompted alarmed warnings from American and United Nations officials who fear that mass bloodshed may be imminent. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, told reporters on Monday that the city was “on the precipice of a large-scale massacre.”

El Fasher is the latest flashpoint in a year-old civil war between Sudan’s military and the Rapid Support Forces, a powerful paramilitary group that the military once nurtured and is now its bitter rival for power. The conflict has devastated one of Africa’s largest countries and created a vast humanitarian crisis that U.N. officials say is one of the biggest in decades.

The crisis also brings a sharp focus on the role of foreign powers accused of fueling the fight, especially the United Arab Emirates.

Since April 14, fighters loyal to the Rapid Support Forces, or R.S.F., have surrounded El Fasher in preparation for what the U.N. has called an “imminent assault.” El Fasher, the former capital of the precolonial kingdom of Darfur, has about 1.8 million inhabitants, including hundreds of thousands who fled earlier waves of fighting.

The city is the last obstacle to total R.S.F. domination of the region. Its fighters swept across Darfur last fall and now hold four of the region’s five major cities.

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