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Darfur: Waiting for the slaughter

2006 September 16
by Paul Vallely

Rasha Ibrahim Adam and her children may be about to die – just as she thought they had all escaped to safety.

The 38-year-old mother of four children is one of the latest to flee the bombs from the Sudanese government that have dropped on their homes. Today, she finds herself in one of the dusty, benighted refugee camps that litter the region of Darfur. She sits in her once bright red tob – a wrap-around dress – that has been faded by the sand-laden wind that blows across al-Salaam camp on the edge of the town of el-Fasher.

She was one of the 50,000 people who swelled the scorched camps for the “internally displaced” in the past month – bringing to about 2.5 million the number of children, women and men now homeless in a conflict that has dragged on for three years without an end seemingly in sight. Until now, that is. Because an end is in sight for the Darfur camps – where at least 300,000 black African farmers have been slaughtered by the Khartoum government and its Arab proxies, the Janjaweed militia, whose name means “devils on horseback”. One of those who died was Rasha’s husband, Adam.

It could be an end so terrifying, it defies the imagination.

The fear is that the rest of Adam Ibrahim Adam’s family – and many of the two million people of the Fur, Massaleit or Zaghawa tribes in the camps – may soon perish too.

The 7,000 troops of the African Union, who have been desperately trying to protect the camps, have been told by Khartoum they must leave Darfur at the end of this month when their mandate runs out. Sudan has defied a UN resolution that mandated an improved 20,000-strong blue-hatted UN force to take over.

Instead, it is sending 10,000 of its own troops to the region for what human rights observers fear will be a brutal “final solution”.

In a situation already described by the UN as the “world’s worst humanitarian disaster” the genocide so long denied by the Arab government in Khartoum may be about to happen.

“We’re on the brink of a massive catastrophe,” said one senior Western diplomat yesterday. “If there is no Plan B for Darfur, all-out genocide is highly likely,” said James Smith, chief executive of the Aegis Trust, which is co-ordinating a worldwide protest that will take place in 32 countries tomorrow.

About 7,000 Sudanese troops have already arrived in Darfur, with the avowed aim of crushing those rebel groups who failed to sign up to the Darfur Peace Deal agreed in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in May. Aid workers throughout those parts of the province that are still accessible say the signs are that a major new offensive will start in the next three weeks.

Government troops and military ordnance have been pouring into el-Fasher airport for seven weeks now. Preliminary attacks have already begun. Yesterday, there were reports of the bombing of Dobo Madrasa, and another unnamed village, to the east of the Jebel Marra mountains.

The day before, the government bombed seven villages south of Tawilla town, including Tabarat and Tina, after which about 45 vehicles carrying government troops swept into the area. Local people fled the villages to hide in the mountains.

The tall and dignified Rasha – her name has been changed to protect her identity – described what happened when the government attacked her village near Kulkul. “I was feeding my two-year-old son when I heard the plane. I knew immediately what it meant,” she said. “I started to run but didn’t know where to go.

“Then the bombs dropped and soon everybody was running and my boy was screaming. The bombing didn’t last long but to me it felt like days, and I didn’t know where my other children were or what happened to them. Eventually, they came running to me – they’d been hiding with friends near the mosque.

“Two people were killed but we knew the bombers would be back, so nearly the whole village decided to leave. All around us is fighting but to the north the fighting is the worst so we headed south to el-Fasher.

“We walked for days and arrived here in al-Salaam camp. We all walked together to try and keep safe – it was very slow with young children and old women and some of the children were abducted on the way. We still don’t know what’s happened to them. Now I’m here with all my children and I thank Allah that we are safe and alive.”

But for how long? The Sudanese government is making its preparations, brazenly, before the eyes of the world. On Tuesday, the EU’s special envoy, Pekka Haavisto, on a three-day visit to the region, witnessed Antonov-20 planes loading bombs in el-Fasher, the regional capital of North Darfur, in preparation for an attack. The Sudanese military roll bombs from the doors of these cargo planes; rights observers saw a woman and seven children injured near Kulkul when a bomb was rolled from the back of an Antonov.

Khartoum is flagrant in its flouting of the authority of the African Union mission in Darfur. This week, the government seized a tanker full of AU jet fuel in el-Fasher and used it to fill its own aircraft which are arriving daily there delivering troops and arms.

Last Saturday, villagers who had earlier been attacked by the Janjaweed gathered near the ruins of their homes in South Darfur to speak to AU investigators; as they waited for the AU helicopter to arrive, the Janjaweed attacked again, killing 18 of the survivors of the earlier assault.

All across Darfur, people are on the move again in the face of intensified combat. The rebel forces, many of which have fragmented in disagreements over the Abuja peace deal, are causing mayhem.

The region is descending slowly into warlordism and banditry. In the lawless wild west of Sudan, where every group now seems out for itself, aid agencies, the UN and even the African Union force are being ambushed and robbed of supplies and vehicles. Rebels who once rode camels and horses and carried AK47s are now in 4x4s with rocket-propelled grenades obtained from Chad and Eritrea.

South Darfur, which had been quiet since the peace deal, has seen militia attacks on many villages in the past few weeks. Gerida refugee camp south of Nyala, which previously housed 20,000, is now the biggest camp in Darfur with 120,000 inhabitants.

Guerrillas from the rebel Justice & Equality movement (JEM) have split from the National Redemption Front (NRF) – an alliance of rebels who did not sign the Abuja peace deal between the Khartoum government and the main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) – and are moving into West Darfur.

The region is in deepening chaos. Of its six million population, two million are in internal camps and 200,000 in camps in neighbouring Chad. Some 3.4 million are dependent on food aid – but of them, an Oxfam spokesman, Alun McDonald, said, 4 out of 10 people are not receiving the assistance they need because aid agencies cannot reach them.

Mr McDonald said: “Our movement in Darfur is greatly restricted because the roads are simply too dangerous to use. Where possible, we access places by helicopter but most rural areas are almost completely out of bounds.”

Things will get much worse if the African Union is forced to leave. But yesterday Khartoum was intransigent on that point.

After a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa, the Sudanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, Al-Samani Al-Wasila, insisted the AU troops, who were due to begin a “rolling transition” to a UN peace mission, must withdraw on 30 September.

“The government of Sudan will not accept UN peace-keepers,” he said. It has also told the AU it will allow no further troop rotations. Instead it proposes its own stabilisation plan which will move 10,500 more Sudanese troops into Darfur to combat “outlaws and terrorists” there.

The signs of what that force will do are not encouraging. In addition to the new wave of bombings, an assault has been launched on the NRF rebels in the town of Um Sidir, 70km north of el-Fasher. The town has changed hands several times in the past few days.

The government has told the few aid organisations who have not pulled out that it wants to disperse the entire camp population by the end of September. It wants agencies, including Oxfam, to set up services in rural areas so people can be enticed back despite the lack of security. If that does not happen one state governor has spoken of putting barbed wire around camps “for their own protection” – in effect ,making them prison camps.

To intimidate aid agencies, Khartoum harasses them. The Norwegian Refugee Council, the main NGO at Kalma camp in South Darfur, was barred from the camp last week. Aid workers have been detained for gathering information on rapes and sexual violence. Eight aid workers have been killed in the past few weeks.

Many aid agencies, such as Save the Children UK, have pulled out of the region entirely. And Oxfam has shut two offices near Kebkabiya. “It’s got a lot more unstable,” said one worker. “It’s extremely difficult to operate.”

It will get even worse if African Union troops pull out. In one area where the AU used to provide three patrols a week rapes increased from four a month to 200 when the patrols had to be reduced to one a week.

Back in Rasha’s camp at al-Salaam, an old lady named Fatima looked on, bent-backed. She opened her gap-toothed mouth and, gesturing around the wind-swept camp with its pitiful shelters of bent branches, she cried: “I’m far too old for this. But I will go home – I am not going to die here, far away in a strange camp.”

Sadly, she could prove to be horribly wrong.

Anwar Bakar, MASSACRE SURVIVOR: ‘They want to kill us because we are black’

“The problem of Darfur began with Arabs coming and attacking villages.

“When you were going to school, they would stop and ask you: ‘Where are you going?’ I would say: ‘I am going to school.’ They would say: ‘We are going to stop you. Why do you need to go to school?’

“Since I was a child, they have been asking: ‘Are you Fur? Fur is abid [slave].’

“They say we are like slaves, that they need to remove the Fur. They want to kill us because we are black.

“This land belonged to the Fur tribe or other minority peoples in Darfur before but they say no, this Fur land is Arab land.”

Jamila Bochra Mohammed, RAPE VICTIM:

“When the Janjaweed attacked our village, they came shooting and burning from all directions. I tried to run away, but they told me to stop or they would kill me. I was raped by five armed men. I saw other women raped and many people killed, including my mother and my mother-in-law. They were thrown into a fire while they were still alive, right in front of me. I was later attacked again by the Janjaweed, in a refugee camp in Chad. This time I was shot in the leg. Today, I am a failed asylum-seeker in the UK.

Abdirahman Abdulla, ZAGHAWA SURVIVOR:

“I was in el-Fasher and saw the head of a man being played with by policemen like a football. They had accused him of being a thief. There was no proof.

“They had killed him because he was Zaghawa, nothing else. The whole city witnessed this. All the Arabs were celebrating.

“They carried his head around. They said, ‘Zaghawa is the enemy, Zaghawa is the enemy,’ all over the city. It was something strange.”

Name withheld, Murder witness:

“I witnessed several girls raped right in front of my eyes. They were aged between 15 and 21. We took cattle out to pasture together frequently, so I knew them.

“They were raped by 60 or 70 Janjaweed in April 2004. We were tied to trees as they raped the girls.

“Afterwards, they also tied them and put cotton in their mouths. The cotton was soaked in fuel. Then they lit the cotton and burned them to death.”


“We have a saying in Darfur: ‘The dog barks, but it makes no difference to the camel.’ We are the dogs. The world is the camel.”

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