UN warns of possible imminent attack on Sudanese city

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -The United Nations is increasingly concerned about a possible imminent attack on al-Fashir in Sudan's North Dafur region and is seeking to reduce tensions in the area, a U.N. spokesperson said on Friday.

War erupted in Sudan one year ago between the Sudanese army (SAF) and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), creating the world's largest displacement crisis.

Al-Fashir is the last major city in the vast, western Darfur region not under control of the RSF. The RSF and its allies swept through four other Darfur state capitals last year, and were blamed for a campaign of ethnically driven killings against non-Arab groups and other abuses in West Darfur.

"The Rapid Support Forces are reportedly encircling al-Fashir, suggesting a coordinated move to attack the city may be imminent. Simultaneously, the Sudanese Armed Forces appear to be positioning themselves," the U.N. spokesperson said.

"An attack on the city would have devastating consequences for the civilian population. This escalation of tensions is in an area already on the brink of famine," the spokesperson said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres again calls on all parties to refrain from fighting in the al-Fashir area, said the spokesperson, adding that his envoy on Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, was working to de-escalate the tensions.

The fight for al-Fashir, a historic centre of power, could be more protracted, inflame ethnic tensions that surfaced in the early-2000s conflict in the region and reach across Sudan's border with Chad, say residents, aid agencies and analysts.

The United States on Wednesday called on all armed forces in Sudan to immediately cease attacks in al-Fashir.

Top U.N. officials warned the Security Council last week that some 800,000 people in al-Fashir were in "extreme and immediate danger" as worsening violence advances and threatens to "unleash bloody intercommunal strife throughout Darfur."

The U.N. has said nearly 25 million people, half of Sudan's population, need aid and some 8 million have fled their homes.

A United Nations-backed global authority on food security has said that immediate action is needed to "prevent widespread death and total collapse of livelihoods and avert a catastrophic hunger crisis in Sudan."

Donors last week pledged more than $2 billion for war-torn Sudan at a conference in Paris.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; writing by Susan Heavey; editing by Christina Fincher and Alistair Bell)