Darfur children dragged from mothers and shot

The Sunday Times November 19, 2006

WHEN the fighters came, the mothers of Jebel Maun could not protect their children. Screaming toddlers were ripped from their grasp and shot; older children who tried to save their brothers and sisters were hunted down. “Four children escaped in a group and ran under a tree for protection. An attacker came and shot at them, killing one of the children,” said a witness in an account to United Nations staff.

Another group, aged five, seven and nine, tried to run away. The five-year-old fell down and was shot dead. Another boy stopped and told the attacker: “You killed this child. Please let me go.” It was no use. He too was killed, one of more than 20 children who died that day.

Local people in the Darfur region of Sudan put the number of dead in the attack earlier this month at 63, mostly old men and children. The African Union, which has a peacekeeping force in Darfur, said 92 people died in the eight villages attacked. “They took the babies and children from their mothers’ arms, beat the women and shot the children,” said one witness, Adam Gamer Umar. “They said, ‘We’re killing your sons and when you have more we will come and kill them too’.” Mariam Abakr Yehya’s three-year-old was one of those killed. “They said they would kill this one next time,” she said, referring to the baby boy in her arms.

Details of the latest massacres emerged as a deal was brokered last week by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, for a “hybrid force” of African Union troops with logistical support from the UN. However, there was no agreement on the timing or mandate of this force and the Sudanese government has continued to resist calls for 20,000 UN peacekeepers to replace a relatively ineffective African Union force of 7,000. 

The villagers of Jebel Maun say their attackers wore government uniforms and badges and carried new guns and satellite phones. A similar description was given by the inhabitants of Sirba, another Darfur village, where 30 people were killed. Last Tuesday militiamen with new weapons and Landcruisers barred the road to African Union investigators. Khartoum denies responsibility for the atrocities and blames a rogue Arab militia.

Five peace treaties have been signed and torn up since conflict erupted in Darfur in 2003. Local tribes, mostly “African” farmers, formed rebel movements to protest against the neglect of their region and the arming of Arabic-speaking nomadic militias. The government responded by encouraging the militias, known as the janjaweed, to target civilians it suspected of supporting the rebels. At least 200,000 people have been killed and 2m made homeless in the ensuing carnage. Since only one of three rebel factions signed the latest peace deal in May, the violence has worsened. Vast swathes of northern Darfur have become no-go areas for aid groups providing vital food, medicine and clean water for refugees. Thirteen aid workers have been killed in six months. Organisations that speak out against abuses, such as gang rape and intimidation, find their members arrested or permits to operate revoked. Laptop computers are confiscated and searched at the airport.

In El Fasher, the capital of north Darfur, one official tried to seize papers belonging to The Sunday Times containing confidential interviews with civilians who had suffered at the hands of government forces. There is plenty to hide. In a clear violation of the peace treaty, 1,000 janjaweed moved into the desolate outpost of Tine, on the border between Sudan and Chad, three weeks ago to support 3,000 government troops already stationed there. Almost all the 70,000 residents have fled. Now fighters sporting flip-flops, assault rifles and a mishmash of uniforms lounge insolently in the marketplace.

At their nearby camp the 200 African Union soldiers say there is little they can do. Outnumbered by government forces and lacking a mandate to intervene, they are calling in vain for UN action It is already too late for the children of Jebel Maun and there is no one left in Tine to protect. “This is a ghost town. All the people are dead or have run away,” said Virginia Mukuka, one of 30 civilian police attached to the African Union force in Tine. She says she has dealt with only one complaint in four months. “We came to help our brothers and sisters,” she said, “but they are gone.”

Posted by Nuttshell on 11/22 at 03:17 PM in Blogging

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