Umm Dukhun — A tribal spokesman in Central Darfur announced on Wednesday his fighters "are very close" to catching Ali Kushayb, a militia leader indicted for war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The alleged war criminal is accused of committing murders, rapes and forcibly displacing thousands of people. ICC issued an arrest warrant for him in 2007. Witnesses said he is leading the clashes since they started on the Misseriya side.
Tensions in Umm Dukhun began to rise last Wednesday morning after a member of the Misseriya tribe allegedly tried looting and opening fire on a Salamat man, who was not hurt. Hostilities erupted the next day when 4,000 men of both sides began battling each other.
Al Bashir Idris Garagandi, spokesman of the Salamat Shura (community leaders), claimed his tribe is "winning" the war. He denied allegations the Salamat have suffered heavy losses or that his fighters were displaced from their stronghold in Abugaratil.
"We beat Ali Kushayb's Misseriya troops in Abugaratil and killed many of them. We also arrested someone very close to him", Garagandi said.
Ali Kushayb has become the leader of the Sudanese Central Reserve Forces, also known as Abu Tira, Garagandi said, adding that 16 of its elements were killed in the Abugaratil battle.
"We are now chasing Kushayb", who is believed to be in the Um Dafug area of South Darfur, the spokesman said. Catching him "would be a victory for the ICC and for the victims of Darfur".
The spokesman said state officials have not yet tried to contain the clashes and he raised questions concerning the motivation of Kushayb for joining the war. Garagandi suggested there could be an agenda behind the attacks and added some parties may be 'benefiting" from it.
He alleged the Salamat are not attacking the Misseriya, but actually defending themselves against their strikes.
Despite the total absence of state officials, Garagandi said the Sudanese police and army have tried pushing insurgents out of Umm Dukhun city on Wednesday. "However, all of their efforts failed".
The spokesman disclosed that although not much fighting took place in Umm Dukhun city in the last hours, the town has witnessed heavy looting "by the Misseriya".
"The situation is terrible. Militias raided homes and shops and loaded their cars with the stolen goods", Garagandi was quoted as saying.
He also said that Salamat men have been assaulted by three different tribes recently and suggested that this is the result of false propaganda about them being rebels fighting the Sudanese government.
In his interview with Radio Dabanga, Garagandi then questioned if it is not "these tribes who are becoming an army of the government to fight rebels".
According to the latest death tolls from Monday, different witness accounts put the total number of dead as high as 163 in several different clashes in and around Umm Dukhun.
Militia leader indicted by ICC 'leading' Darfur tribal clashes -sources (9 April 2013)