GENEVA (Reuters) -Ethnically motivated attacks perpetrated by Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militia have killed hundreds in the West Darfur region, the United Nations human rights chief said on Tuesday.
Bloodshed, violence and displacement have escalated since fighting between the Sudanese army and RSF erupted in April, driving the country to the brink of civil war.
"In West Darfur, ethnically motivated attacks perpetrated by the RSF and allied Arab militia have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of non-Arab civilians primarily from Masalit communities," Volker Turk, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
"Such developments echo a horrific past that must not be repeated," he said, alluding to the killing of as many as 300,000 people and displacement of over 2 million in conflict in Darfur between 2003 and 2008.
Turk said the latest attacks had occurred mainly in El Geneina, capital of West Darfur and Sudan's westernmost city, but also in at least eight other locations. He said the RSF controls all but two localities in West Darfur.
The RSF has denied accusations by conflict monitors, rights groups and witnesses that it is behind attacks on civilians, while saying any of its soldiers found to be involved would be brought to justice.
The reported attacks against the non-Arab Masalit people, the largest community in El Geneina, have sent tens of thousands of people fleeing across the nearby border into Chad.
Turk there were also "worrying signs" of the involvement of militia often affiliated along tribal or ethnic lines.
"Mobilisation campaigns by the Sudanese armed forces pose a real risk of sparking intercommunal tension and triggering even further conflict between communities," he said.
Turk also highlighted what he called an "ongoing epidemic of conflict-related sexual violence", saying his office had received credible reports of 45 incidents, involving at least 95 victims, including 75 women, one man and 19 children.
"This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg... The majority of perpetrators – around 78% - have been men in RSF uniform or armed men affiliated with the RSF."
The U.N. refugee agency said last week it expected more than 1.8 million people from Sudan to flee to five neighbouring countries by the end of the year.
The war in Sudan began four years after a popular uprising ousted President Omar al-Bashir. Tensions between the army and RSF, which jointly staged a coup in 2021, erupted into fighting over a plan to integrate their forces as part of a transition to civilian rule. While several countries have launched mediation efforts, none has succeeded in bringing a halt to the fighting.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)