Sudanese gunmen have looted a World Food Programme warehouse containing about 1,900 tonnes 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 shooting near the warehouse late Tuesday, and the local authorities have imposed a night-time 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 organisation was "conducting an audit into what was stolen from the warehouse, which contained some 1,900 tonnes 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 UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan. "Humanitarian assistance should never be a target."
On Twitter, Darfur Governor Mini Minawi denounced 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 dead.
The unrest pitted ethnic minority rebels, who complained of discrimination, against the Arab-dominated government of then president Omar al-Bashir.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed militia, blamed for atrocities including murder, rape, looting and burning villages.
Thousands of Janjaweed were later integrated into the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, currently the number two in Sudan's ruling council.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in Darfur. He was ousted and jailed in April 2019 after mass protests against his three-decade rule.
- Millions of needy -
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 UN logistics base in El Fasher that had been handed over to the local authorities days earlier.
A joint UN 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 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the highest level for a decade.