Tuesday, October 11, 2005

SUDAN: Violence forces many to flee North Darfur

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

© Derk Segaar/IRIN

Hawa Wadi Kogere.

EL FASHER, 11 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Hawa Wadi Kogere arrived in Zam Zam camp for internally displaced persons' (IDPs), on the outskirts of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, on 20 September after her village was attacked.

Since then, the 75-year-old woman from the Zaghawa community has lived beneath a tree, without enough food or any other shelter.

"We were chased, some of us killed and we lost all our property," Kogere told IRIN at Zam Zam. "Those who survived had nothing left and came here."

She was in the fields when the attack on Dugumare village - about 50 km south west of El Fasher - took place. She managed to get away, but her son and grandson were killed. Her house was torched.

During an offensive that lasted from 18 to 20 September, local Sheikhs claim that government soldiers and Janjawid fighters - Arab militia aligned to the government - attacked more than 20 villages.

The villages included Tarni, Soraj, Amar Jadid, Jabaien and Korofola. The attacks were possibly the largest ceasefire violations in Darfur since the beginning of 2005.

"There were people on camels and a number of Land Cruisers [all-terrain vehicles]. They had heavy weapons on vehicles and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades]. Then they started shooting," Ali Mohamed Fadul, a local Sheik who oversees 45 villages, told IRIN.

"When the Janjawid and soldiers arrived, they took all our property. They shot the men and abducted women and girls. We ran with only the clothes on our bodies," he recounted.

"Some elderly men couldn't run. They [the attackers] put a rope around their necks and dragged them around with horses until they died," he added.

According to Fadul, 35 people were killed during the attacks and 10 were still missing. He stressed, however, that it was hard to give an exact number of casualties as everybody had dispersed.

African Union (AU) observers in the region put the preliminary number of fatalities at 27.

Fadul claimed the reason behind the recent spate of attacks was that the government was using the Janjawid as a proxy force to chase them out of their area.

Although land in Darfur was traditionally divided among the local people, Fadul claimed the government had made a contrary declaration. Now it was using the Janjawid to terrorise people and take control over their land.

The Janjawid were predominantly interested in looting their animals and most of the villagers' livestock was taken. He said from the villages in his area, approximately 250 head of cattle were taken, as well as 500 camels, 700 donkeys, 1,000 goats and 1,600 sheep.

Escalation of conflict

IDPs who recently arrived in ZamZam camp, North Darfur

Observers have expressed concern that the attacks on the villages, as well as the numerous incidents that followed, mark a standoff between the government and the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) - in particular its Zaghawa faction - that constitutes a substantial threat to the region's security.

Many members of the Zaghawa community have received professional military training in the Chadian and Sudanese armies and provide the bulk of SLM/A's military strength, while the Fur tend to dominate the political leadership of the movement, the International Crisis Group noted in a 6 October report.

Growing rifts between both political leaders and military commanders as well as between Zaghawa and Fur factions of the SLM/A have led to a breakdown in the movement's command structure and a disconnect between political aspirations at the peace talks and military operations on the ground.

An observer in the region noted that the most recent scorched earth campaign by government-aligned forces had been targeting Zaghawa villages in particular. This followed considerable SLM/A activity by rebels loyal to SLM/A's Zaghawa commander, Minni Arko Minawi.

At the beginning of September, rebels looted several thousand animals from Arab nomads near Malam. This was followed by at least three SLM/A attacks on government towns, resulting in the brief take-over of the Sudanese garrison town of Shearia on 19 September, the observer added.

"If the GOS [Government of Sudan] forces claim that their latest acts of ceasefire violations are in retaliation for earlier acts of provocation by the SL[M/]A, this cannot be justified given the deliberately calculated destruction wreaked by the disproportionate use of force on innocent civilians and IDPs in their camps," Baba Gana Kingibe, head of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), told reporters on 1 October in Khartoum.

Unconfirmed reports said there were more government attacks on villages southwest of El Fasher on 3 October, leading to the destruction of Kapka village and possibly Abu Zereiga.

Large troop movements of both SLM/A and the Sudanese armed forces in the area did not bode well for a cessation of hostilities in the near future, the observer warned. He expressed concern that a potential breakdown of the ongoing Darfur peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, would spark a new SLM/A offensive.

"How many razed villages still constitute a ceasefire violation and when is it simply the end of the ceasefire?" he asked.


On 29 September, a government convoy of 41 trucks and nine all-terrain vehicles stopped on the outskirts of Tawilla, a town west of El Fasher, and numerous soldiers entered the town. Many shops and houses were burnt to the ground, forcing thousands of inhabitants to flee to the nearby camp of the AMIS military observers.

Tawilla is a government-controlled town, but many residents are of Zaghawa origin. An AMIS officer in Tawilla told IRIN that the Sudanese armed forces suspected many of its inhabitants of being SLM/A sympathisers.

Government soldiers said the 29 September violence erupted when they were attacked by SLM/A rebels, but the AMIS officer insisted "it was a premeditated attack".

"Four elderly men were killed at close range - execution style - and seven people were injured," the AU officer noted. "The armaments used varied from small arms to heavy 12.7 mm machine guns and RPGs."

During an earlier outbreak of fighting in Tawilla on 9 September, five people died and between 30 and 40 were injured. On 7 October, a Sudanese army convoy of 16 vehicles stopped near Tawilla and 15 minutes of sustained firing with heavy weapons took place outside the town. The result is still under investigation.

The 29 September attack led to the reported displacement of about 2,500 individuals who erected makeshift shelters near the AMIS group site camp in Tawilla.

Although two international NGOs withdrew from the area as a result of the attacks, the IDPs were receiving some emergency assistance from the AMIS forces.

A woman who had fled Tawilla and had been staying near the AMIS compound for the last 10 days said the insecurity was continuing. "I don't expect to go home anytime soon," she said.

However, as the immediate threat dissipated, most people returned to town or to their fields during the day in order to cultivate their fields or access some basic live-sustaining services, including food and water.

People felt far from secure, however, and a man whose house had been burnt told IRIN that every night Tawilla town emptied as its inhabitants moved to the outskirts of the AMIS compound to spend the night. "Nobody stays in town at night," he noted.

Impact on IDP population

Recently burnt homes in Tawilla, Darfur.

Humanitarian agencies estimate that some 5,223 IDPs had fled to Zam Zam IDP camp following the September attacks on the villages. More people were continuing to arrive.

Non-food items and food had thus far been provided to 700 families who arrived immediately following the attacks, but Sheikhs were insisting that the current figure of recently displaced people was as high as 22,900.

Various humanitarian agencies were planning a verification exercise to obtain correct figures in order to provide appropriate assistance.

"The days following the attacks on the villages, about 4,000 directly affected individuals came to Zam Zam for support," one aid worker said.

"But people continued to trickle in, some who fled into the mountains first, and are arriving now; others who arrived following the most recent attacks on villages south of El Fasher as well as on Tawilla town itself," he added.

Aid workers were crosschecking registration lists from the areas where the violence erupted in order to try to establish whether people were really coming from the affected areas.

"With so many IDPs in nearby camps, it is next to impossible to establish whether an IDP is coming from Abu Shouk [a large IDP camp next to El Fasher] to try to get a double ration or a genuine new arrival who needs immediate assistance," the aid worker noted, adding that the agencies wanted to start a new distribution as soon as possible.

"We have cultivated a lot of millet, but with the insecurity, we are afraid to go back to harvest," Fadul said.

Humanitarian agencies had predicted a bumper harvest in the region this year, but fear it may be of little benefit to most of the recently displaced.

Nama Abdellah Saleh, a 45-year-old Zaghawa woman with eight children, arrived in Zam Zam on 22 September from Tawilla when the Janjawid and government soldiers attacked the area south of the town on 18 September and took most of her animals.

"I was in the cattle camp when the attack took place. The Janjawid came on horses and camels and the soldiers arrived in Land Cruisers with heavy weapons. They took women, children and men and killed them. The majority of our animals were taken," Saleh explained.

"This is the third time an attack like this happened around Tawilla. Each time we ran away and came back again. Now we lost hope, and we are here," Saleh said.

"We cannot go back. The Janjawid will kill us. I lost my two sisters," she added, before breaking into tears.


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