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SUDAN: Inter-communal violence causing more suffering in Darfur

EL FASHER, 13 March 2007 (IRIN) - In a trend that the African Union (AU) calls disturbing, ethnic communities in western Sudan are fighting each other, even as violence perpetrated by outsiders continues to displace civilians and hamper aid operations across Darfur.

"The upsurge [in communal] conflicts is what disturbs me," AU force commander Luke Aprezi said. He cited clashes between the Riziegat and Terjem ethnic communities in South Darfur. "I do not know why there is this resurgence," he added.

The Riziegat are one of the larger groups of Arab pastoralists in Darfur, consisting of clan-based communities such as the Mahadia, Maharia and Mahami, while the Terjem are a smaller group.

Sources in Kass, South Darfur, said members of both Arab communities were armed by the government of Sudan and conducted raids on black African communities of the Fur tribe during the early stages of the conflict, but as resources become scarce they have begun fighting among themselves.

In the latter half of February, the AU documented at least 100 deaths due to tribal clashes. In one attack, four young boys of the Terjem were shot in their sleep by members of the Riziegat, while 32 people in the Terjem village of Amar Jadeed were killed in a separate attack.

International force is preferred solution

Local leaders said the solution lay in a quick deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force. "We want security and to live in peace," community leader Omda Hassan Abdallah Bahoor told IRIN at the sprawling Abu Shouk camp for displaced Darfuris. The camp has continued to expand on the outskirts of the North Darfur State capital, El Fasher. "This will only be reached if the UN comes in because they will offer [adequate] security," he said.

The international community has put intense pressure on Sudan to accept a joint UN-AU ‘hybrid force’ in war-torn Darfur but after months of talks, Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir has only agreed to allow the UN to provide logistical and technical support to the AU as part of a ‘light support package’.

Civilians in Darfur say the AU lacks adequate resources to effectively protect them, even though attacks by Janjawid militias have decreased. In the tense southern city of Gereida, two peacekeepers were shot dead and a third critically wounded last week. Sources said the troops were killed by members of the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Minni Minnawi — the only rebel leader to sign on to the 5 May Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) with the government.

Minnawi's group has not responded to the charges and the motive for the killings is unclear. But, observers say, it is a blow to the already shaky peace deal.

The group’s representative in Gereida said the Sudanese government had failed to properly implement the DPA. He also accused the government of involvement in an 18 December attack on the compounds of humanitarian organisations in Gereida that spurred a pull-out of aid workers, placing at least 130,000 vulnerable civilians in a desperate situation.

"The National Congress Party [Sudan's ruling party] has hidden hands and they are behind that attack," said Abdel Gasim Ahmed Mohamed, Minnawi’s commander in Gereida. "If things don’t improve, we will go back to square one, and that is war."

The DPA has been plagued by problems since the signing. The SLA, led by Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur, and the Justice and Equality Movement refused to sign up to the deal. Clashes between the two left at least 11 civilians dead in Gereida in October.

In the meantime, aid workers say the Sudanese government has continued a campaign of aerial bombardment, targeting rebel hideouts. Janjawid militias have also continued harassing civilians.

Nur, a member of the African Fur tribe, from which the region takes its name, continues to command powerful support from civilians, many of whom say they would prefer to remain in tense camps for the displaced rather than accept a bad deal.

"Nur is the most liked and respected in all of Darfur," Bahoor said. "The peace signing is not right because the people causing the biggest problem are the government and Minnawi’s people."

Violence continues unabated

Despite the agreement, AU and international observers worry that spiralling violence will hurt ordinary Dafurians even more. In particular, rape has remained a tool to terrify women and girls. The AU has not been spared either. Following the murder of one of its civilian police officers on 1 February by unknown assailants in Kassab camp for displaced civilians in the northern town of Kutum, it was forced to stop patrols in the area.

The murder of the officer sent shockwaves through the peacekeepers. "This man was shot for no reason at all; they could have just taken the vehicle and gone," AU civilian police commander Ahmed El-Sarafy told IRIN. "I think there was a message behind this. They do not want us any more."

The AU said rebels from the SLA confessed that one of their members had murdered the officer and stolen his vehicle, but days later the rebels changed their story to indicate that they had merely found the vehicle with the keys in the ignition.

Three weeks later, two girls, aged eight and 10, were raped while out collecting firewood. The eight-year-old girl covered her face with her scarf and looked at the ground as she spoke about her ordeal.

"One of the men kept looking at his watch," she remembered. "When they were done we were locked in the room. Another woman freed us. I don’t know who she is."

"We need security badly," community leader Tayyib Adam Nureldin said during a meeting with AU civilian police officers in early March. "As IDPs [internally displaced persons] this is the most important thing for us."

Sudan is charged with arming Janjawid militias to crush a rebellion by communities in Darfur who complained that their remote region was being marginalised by the central government. The Janjawid embarked on a scorched-earth campaign targeting civilian villages deemed sympathetic to the rebels.

Aid workers estimate that at least 200,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict in 2003 while more than two million have been displaced in Darfur and in eastern Chad. In total, four million civilians need assistance to survive in Darfur, according to the UN.

On Monday, a UN Human Rights Council team urged Sudan’s government to fully cooperate with the immediate deployment of a UN/AU force and end the targeting of civilians. It also called on all armed rebel movements to strictly observe human rights laws.

"The situation is characterised by gross and systematic violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law. War crimes and crimes against humanity continue across the region," the mission said.

"The principal pattern is one of a violent counter-insurgency campaign waged by the government of the Sudan in concert with Janjawid/militia, and targeting mostly civilians," it added. "Rebel forces are also guilty of serious abuses of human rights and violations of humanitarian law."

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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