Sudanese gunmen have looted a World Food Program (WFP) warehouse containing about 1,900 metric tons of food aid in Darfur amid a surge of violence in the western region, officials said Wednesday.
Residents of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, reported heavy gunfire near the warehouse late Tuesday, and the local authorities imposed a nighttime curfew on the town after the attack, state news agency SUNA reported.
“We heard intense gunfire,” local resident Mohamed Salem told AFP.
A WFP official said the organization was “conducting an audit into what was stolen from the warehouse, which contained some 1,900 [metric tons] of food products” intended to be lifesaving supplies for some of the most vulnerable people.
“One in three people in Sudan needs humanitarian assistance,” said Khardiata Lo N’diaye, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Sudan. “Humanitarian assistance should never be a target.”
On Twitter, Darfur Governor Mini Minawi denounced the raid as a “barbaric act” and said those responsible “will face justice.”
The vast, arid and impoverished region awash with guns is still reeling from a conflict that broke out under former President Omar al-Bashir in 2003, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead.
While the main conflict in Darfur has subsided under a peace deal struck with key rebel groups last year, violence continues to erupt.
The region has seen a spike in conflict since October triggered by disputes over land, livestock and access to water and grazing, with around 250 people killed in fighting between herders and farmers.
Tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The violence has occurred while Sudan reels from political turbulence in the wake of a coup led by military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on October 25.
Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned looting and reported violence near a former U.N. logistics base in El Fasher that had been handed over to the local authorities days earlier.
A joint U.N. and African Union mission, UNAMID, ended 13 years of peacekeeping operations in December last year, but Guterres said “substantial amounts of equipment and supplies” from the looted base were intended to be used by Sudanese communities.
More than 14 million Sudanese will need humanitarian aid next year, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the highest level for a decade.