KHARTOUM – (Reuters) – With its scrubland, unpaved roads and mud brick huts, the Jebel Amer area in Darfur, western Sudan, can look like a poor and desolate place. Under the ground, though, lies something sought by people everywhere: gold.
In the past year or so the precious metal has begun to alter the nature of the decade-old conflict in Darfur, transforming it from an ethnic and political fight to one that, at least in part, is over precious metal.
Fighting between rival tribes over the Jebel Amer gold mine that stretches for some 10 km (six miles) beneath the sandy hills of North Darfur has killed more than 800 people and displaced some 150,000 others since January. Arab tribes, once heavily armed by the government to suppress insurgents, have turned their guns on each other to get their hands on the mines. Rebel groups that oppose the government also want the metal.
The gold mine death toll is more than double the number of all people killed by fighting between the army, rebels and rival tribes in Darfur in 2012, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s quarterly reports to the Security Council.
U.N. officials and diplomats told Reuters the government has been complicit in the violence by encouraging at least one militia group to seize control of mines, a charge the government denies.
Until last year the Darfur conflict pitted the government and its Arab militias against three large rebel groups. The Jebel Amer attack changed that, dividing Arab tribes against each other.
But international peace efforts are still focused on bringing the main rebel groups into a Qatar-sponsored deal Khartoum signed with two splinter groups in 2011.
At the last meeting to discuss the Qatar deal in September, Qatar’s deputy prime minister, Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Mahmoud, expressed concern about the recent tribal violence, but stressed a key factor in bringing peace to Darfur would be to get the rebels to the negotiating table, according to Qatari state media.
The conflict in Darfur began as a struggle between African pastoralists and Arab cattle-owning nomads over access to land. It grew into what the U.S. State Department described as genocide after the government began sponsoring militias to put down a rebel insurgency.
In all, fighting in Darfur since 2003 has killed more than 200,000 people and forced some 2 million from their homes according to human rights groups and the United Nations. In 2009, the International Criminal Court charged Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with war crimes for his role in the Darfur violence, charges he rejects.
The recent resurgence in violence is rooted in Sudan’s loss of a huge chunk of its territory in the south two years ago. When South Sudan seceded in 2011, the rump state of Sudan lost most of its oil production – worth some $7 billion in 2010 – sending the economy into a spin. Sudan’s GDP contracted by 10 percent last year, according to the World Bank.
For the rest of this article, click here: http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/10/08/us-sudan-darfur-gold-idINBRE99707G20131008