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Darfur Civil Conflict 1985-90

Darfur is in one of the poorest regions of Sudan. Even in normal circumstances, the region is hard to reach because it is so far from the capital, Khartoum. Darfur is a poor area that has long been neglected by the central government. It has been a theater for tribal confrontations and attacks launched by armed gangs, but without the emergence of an armed political movement. Armed raids on rich agricultural areas and skirmishes with rival groups are part of the historical way of life for the nomadic herders.

A military agreement was concluded between Libya and Sudan in 1985 after the government of Jaafar al Numayri was overthrown by a group less hostile to Libya. Libya pledged to supply a quantity of trucks, trailers, and spares for Soviet equipment already in the Sudanese inventory. In return, the Libyans reportedly were permitted to set up a base in the western region of Darfur where several hundred Libyan troops joined with Chadian insurgents fighting to topple the Chadian government.

Tribal and ethnic conflicts are neither new nor uncommon. Incidents of both small and large scale conflicts are recorded as far back as 1939 and they generally arise from disputes over access to natural resources like range lands and water points as well as livestock trespassing (grazing on farm lands), closure of herd routes and cattle raiding. Larger conflicts normally emerge from tribal disputes, banditry and disputes with transnational migrating communities. The influx of modern small arms since the war in Chad has increased the loss of life during such conflicts and caused polarization on ethnic lines.

The pattern of conflict changed from low-intensity, small-scale outbreaks from the 1950s to the 1970s, to high-intensity, persistent and large-scale battles in the mid-1980s. The prolonged drought that began in 1983 drove nomadic Zaghawa and Arab groups southwards into the central Fur region of Jebel Marra. By the time of the 1989 peace conference, an estimated 5,000 Fur and 400 Arabs had been killed; tens of thousands had been displaced and 40,000 homes destroyed.

In 1990, Chadian President Idris Deby toppled his predecessor Hissein Habre in a coup. Deby, a Zaghawa, was given support and sanctuary by the Zaghawans - one of Darfur's main ethnic groups - on the Sudanese side of the border.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:40:35 ZULU