Death in Darfur
Fighting first erupted in Sudan's westernmost region of Darfur in February 2003 when armed opposition groups attacked Sudanese government facilities, including a military airport. They claimed that Darfur has been exploited and excluded by successive Sudanese governments. The people of the region have no say in the decision-making process and no control over their resources.
In 2004, this conflict was exacerbated by the interplay of a number of local, regional and international factors. Innocent civilians bore the brunt of the violence. The conflict in Darfur has so far claimed the lives of 50,000 people, and rendered an estimated three million people homeless.
The proliferation of arms only serves to intensify the violence. According to UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, "The only thing in abundance in Darfur is weapons. It's easier to get a Kalashnikov than a loaf of bread." The United Nations has singled out several eastern European and Asian countries as the main culprits, for selling arms to both the Sudanese government and the armed opposition groups. As a result, the war-torn province is now awash with weapons.
The bloody conflict between government forces and their allied Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, on the one hand, and the indigenous non-Arab armed opposition groups on the other, has had serious social ramifications in a region that has traditionally been one of the poorest and least developed in the country.
Western governments and humanitarian relief agencies have accused the Janjaweed of instigating and perpetrating the most violent acts in Darfur. Faced with such ferocious opponents, the only hope for the armed local groups lies with international intervention. The African Union has now sent peacekeeping and monitoring troops to the province. But the Sudanese government insists that, even though it welcomes the AU monitoring force, it will not contemplate the deployment of Western troops in Darfur.
The last two years of fighting has taken a heavy toll on the civilian population. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has described the conflict as "the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe". And the international community is now stepping up the pressure on the various parties to negotiate a peace deal. But so far, the shaky cease-fire agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) -- the two most influential armed opposition groups in Darfur -- signed in the Chadian capital Ndjamena in April 2004 has done little to relieve the suffering of the people of Darfur. Sporadic fighting continues, while the peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, seem to be grinding to a halt.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have denounced many atrocities and human rights abuses in Darfur. The testimonies that follow epitomise the tragic situation and immense human suffering.
'We consider ourselves lucky'
We were living in peace, but this year all hell was let loose. They attacked us, rendered us homeless, stole our belongings, our cattle, our sheep and our goats. They emptied our granaries and set fire to our huts. Everything, our entire lives, changed overnight.
I used to work in a rural school. I am lucky because I had some education and I could fend for myself. Many others were illiterate and at the mercy of wicked men. The school is now in ruins.
We were attacked by the Janjaweed. They came on horseback and camels; some drove in army jeeps. They had air cover: Antonov warplanes, MIG jet fighters and helicopter gunships bombarded our houses. Soon after the aerial bombardment finished, the Janjaweed militiamen stormed our village, terrorising innocent civilians.
We succeeded in beating them off, but then our guns ran out of bullets and they overran our village. The women fled with the children. Some were raped and killed as they were fleeing. The men were killed on the spot.
I am a widow and a grandmother. My three sons fled our village. I don't know whether they are in Darfur or not. I don't know whether they have joined the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA). They just said good-bye and left the village never to return. I have lost touch with them. They left their children -- my grandchildren -- in my care, and their wives. They entrusted me with their lives.
The family is now scattered all over the region. Two of my daughters-in- law are in Darfur. They are in the camps with their children. They are suffering. I fear for their lives. The camps are not safe, and the Janjaweed sometimes raid them. One daughter- in-law is with me in Cairo. We consider ourselves lucky. But, I still worry about those we left behind.
My own two daughters and their children are with me. I don't know if the family is ever going to be reunited.
The Janjaweed burned down our property. They came on horseback. They ransacked the village and set fire to the huts. I am an old woman, so they were not interested in me. But I saw them rape a young neighbour of mine. They raped her and killed her. She was very beautiful and very young. She never lived to see her wedding day.
'I will not go back'
In January, February, March and April this year, heavily armed Fur and Zaghawa tribesmen looted our village and destroyed everything they found.
Some of them wanted to kill us. Others did not. They quarreled among themselves, some insisting that we be killed because we constituted a threat to them. They said that we were Janjaweed. We protested our innocence to no avail. They wanted us to join the SLA, but we refused. We told them that we would have to hold a tribal meeting and that the tribal elders would decide. Most of us decided to flee our villages and seek safe haven in the refugee camps. When there is security in Darfur one day, I will go back. From what I hear, the security situation has deteriorated and it is still not safe.
The attackers burned our village and everything in it. We fled to the refugee camp because we had nothing left and we feared for our lives. I used to have 160 cows, as well as other livestock -- sheep, goats, camels, donkeys, and chickens. We lost everything, everything.
'Coping with calamity'
This year we could not plant our crops because of the war. We were hungry and war-weary. We fled our village in desperation. We moved to the refugee camps.
We got food from the World Food Programme (WFP). They were very generous; they helped us cope with the calamity that befell us. The WFP helped us survive the ordeal.
I am 46 years old. I have two wives and seven children. I came to Egypt in June this year because of the war.
I am emotionally attached to my homeland. I am waiting for the right time when I can return there.
We have no money for transport or any other means to go back to our homeland. I do not know if we are ever going back to Darfur.
We received our first rations of food from the WFP in June. I am very grateful for the food my family and I received, but we would have liked more.
Hawwa Ahmed (an ethnic Fur woman), Bahruddin Omar (an ethnic Arab of Darfur) and Tajuddin Adam (an ethnic Fur man) are three Sudanese refugees who fled Darfur in May, June and July 2004, respectively. They are currently residing in Cairo and spoke to Gamal Nkrumah on condition of anonymity. These are not their real names, and the names of their villages have been deliberately omitted.