Sudan villagers recount harrowing ordeal

Why are the atrocities in Sudan being ignored by the Black press and our so-called “leadership”?  Why are we unwilling to see that the Arab North is looking to subjugate the Christian and Animist Black Africans of the South?

July 1, 2004 | El-Fashir, Sudan—First come the airplanes. Then the horsemen who burn, rape and kill.

Over and over, terrified villagers told the same story Thursday as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan got a firsthand look at the crisis engulfing Sudan’s Darfur region.

Annan, accompanied by government ministers and senior U.N. staff, toured one of the 137 camps where more than 1 million people chased from their homes over the past 16 months have sought shelter.

Sitting on mats shaded by trees, he chatted with camp elders and women who described the waves of attacks humanitarian workers have likened to ethnic cleansing.

Human rights groups accuse the Sudanese government of backing militias of Arab herders, known as the Janjaweed, in a campaign to forcibly remove African farming communities from the vast western region where they have coexisted, and in some cases intermarried, for centuries. Camp residents echoed their accounts Thursday.

“First the planes were flying over us and bombing us. Then the Janjaweed came,” said a 20-year-old woman, who gave her name only as Zahara. “They started to shoot and burn. They took all our belongings. They took men and slit their throats with swords. The women they took as concubines.”

Zahara, a mother of four, lost her parents in the panic and has no idea what happened to them. She is now among the estimated 12,000 people living in makeshift shelters of branches and plastic sheeting at Zam Zam camp, just south of the North Darfur town of El-Fashir.

Here, at least, there have been no attacks, residents said. But women say they don’t dare venture out for fear of meeting the militias they say regularly abduct and rape African women and girls.

Annan—who is on a three-week tour to the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe—has raised the possibility of sending in international troops if Sudan’s government can’t safeguard its people in Darfur. In a meeting with Sudanese Cabinet ministers Wednesday, he said he wanted to see progress in the next 24-48 hours in resolving the conflict, which has killed up to 30,000 people and left some 2 million in desperate need of aid.

The United States called on the United Nations to

impose an arms embargo and travel ban on the Arab militias in a draft resolution submitted Wednesday to coincide with a visit to Darfur by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell presented the Sudanese government with a timetable to implement its promises to disarm the militias, lift restrictions on humanitarian workers and negotiate a settlement to the 16-month uprising.

The Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army, two groups drawn from the region’s African tribes, took up arms in February 2003 over what they call unjust treatment by the government in their struggle with their Arab countrymen in Darfur. A cease-fire was signed April 8, but both sides accuse each other of violations.

The rebel movements also are confronting Arab militias blamed by humanitarian groups for attacks that have razed hundreds of villages in the area.

The government denies any complicity in the militia attacks and says the warring sides are clashing over land and scarce water resources.

The government did not use the Janjaweed or ask them to come in (the conflict), Osman Keber, governor of North Darfur, told Annan on Thursday. We do not deny that they did a lot of atrocities, but they came by their own agenda.

He underscored that rebels are also committing abuses and reiterated the government’s pledge to improve security and disarm all armed groups.

In their talks with Annan, Cabinet members said the government planned to double the number of national police in the region to 6,000.

Annan welcomed this commitment Wednesday, saying: I think we are all agreed ... without security, the people are not going to go back to their villages.

I am happy to hear that the government accepts its responsibility for protection, he said.

But for the villagers sheltering at Zam Zam, the news was no consolation.

The ones who hit us with planes, we don’t trust them, said 19-year-old Sakina Mohammed Idris.

She said she was among 42 girls captured in her village by turbaned raiders and forced on a 21-day journey on foot through the desert. Along the way, the women were raped. When the militiamen tired of them, they were released.

They spoiled me three times, she said bitterly.

While the governor insisted stability is returning to the north of the region, humanitarian workers said attacks continue, particularly in the west.

Over the past week, hundreds of desperate refugees congregated at another site near El-Fashir, hoping for assistance. But when Annan arrived to meet with them Wednesday, the settlement was deserted. Only their donkeys remained.

Social Affairs Minister Ahnoun Mohammed Ebrahim pointed to heavy flooding in the area and said the refugees had been moved overnight to a better camp already serviced by U.N. agencies and aid groups. But U.N. officials said that place was already overcrowded and the refugees were certain to be turned away.

Posted by Nuttshell on 07/01 at 03:31 PM in Racism / Prejudice

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