Darfur Chaos: New Arab-versus-Arab dimension

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Darfur Chaos: New Arab-versus-Arab dimension

Postby musika man » Tue Sep 04, 2007 12:02 am

does this story remind you of the somali civil war?

"Some aid workers say Darfur is beginning to resemble Somalia, the world’s longest-running showcase for AK-47-fed chaos"

Darfur Chaos: New Arab-versus-Arab dimension

Tuesday 4 September 2007 03:30.

By Jeffrey Gettleman

August 28, 2007 (NYALA, Sudan) — Some of the same Arab tribes accused of massacring civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan are now unleashing their considerable firepower against one another in a battle over the spoils of war that is killing hundreds of people and displacing tens of thousands.

In the past several months, the Terjem and the Mahria, heavily armed Arab tribes that United Nations officials said raped and pillaged together as part of the region’s notorious janjaweed militias, have squared off in South Darfur, fighting from pickup trucks and the backs of camels. They are raiding each other’s villages, according to aid workers and the fighters themselves, and scattering Arab tribesmen into the same kinds of displacement camps that still house some of their earlier victims.

United Nations officials said that thousands of gunmen from each side, including some from hundreds of miles away, were pouring into a strategic river valley called Bulbul, while clashes between two other Arab tribes, the Habanniya and the Salamat, were intensifying farther south.

Darfur’s violence has often been characterized as government-backed Arab tribes slaughtering non-Arab tribes, but this new Arab-versus-Arab dimension seems to be a sign of the evolving complexity of the crisis. What started out four years ago in western Sudan as a rebellion and brutal counterinsurgency has cracked wide open into a fluid, chaotic, confusing free-for-all with dozens of armed groups, a spike in banditry and chronic attacks on aid workers.

United Nations officials said tribal and factional fighting was killing more people than the battles between government and rebel forces, which, except in a few areas, have declined considerably.

Though the recent round of clashes between the splintering groups has not come close to taking as many lives as the thousands who were dying each month during the height of the conflict in 2003 and 2004, many aid officials say they fear that the situation is getting out of control.

“The fragmentation of armed groups is among our major concerns,” said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan. “This is making the situation even more complex, and more difficult for civilians as well as for humanitarians trying to help them.”

The rising insecurity is spelled out in two color-coded maps taped to Mr. Giuliano’s wall in Khartoum, the capital. One is from May 2006 and has only a few pockets of orange and yellow danger zones. But on the map from this June, the danger zones are everywhere.

United Nations officials say the militias may be jockeying for power and trying to seize turf before the long-awaited hybrid force of United Nations and African Union peacekeepers begins to arrive, perhaps later this year. Today’s battlefields are superimposed on yesterday’s, with the Arab militias killing one another over the same burned villages and stingy riverbeds where so much blood has already been spilled.

Though many Western diplomats and a seemingly endless supply of advocates have blamed the Sudanese government for arming Arab militias in the first place, an accusation the government denies, several independent observers in Sudan said the government was not driving this phase of the conflict.

“The government is no longer arming the janjaweed,” said Col. James Oladipo, the African Union commander in Nyala, in South Darfur. The problem now, he said, is “bandits and factions.”

Some aid workers say Darfur is beginning to resemble Somalia, the world’s longest-running showcase for AK-47-fed chaos. Highwaymen in green camouflage — rebel fighters? local militia? janjaweed? — routinely flag down trucks and drag out passengers, robbing the men and sexually assaulting the women. Newly empowered warlords are exacting taxes. The galaxy of rebel armies — the Greater Sudan Liberation Movement, the Popular Forces Troops, the Sudan Democratic Group, to name a few new arrivals — keeps expanding, and ideology seems to fade away. Despite peace talks among them in early August, the rebels, mostly non-Arabs, are now also battling themselves.

Among Arabs, one of the most egregious examples of the recent infighting happened on the morning of July 31 near Sania Daleibah, in southern Darfur. Terjem leaders said hundreds of Terjem had gathered to bury an important sheik. Then they were suddenly surrounded. It was Mahria tribesmen, and according to United Nations reports and witness accounts, the Mahria opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and belt-fed machine guns and mowed down more than 60 Terjem.

“It was a massacre,” said Mohammed Yacob Ibrahim Abdelrahman, the top Terjem leader. “By our brothers.”

The Arab-Arab violence is impeding the slow recovery process that had begun in some parts of Darfur. Around 2.2 million people are stuck in displaced persons camps, though some had been taking the first steps to leave, like villagers from Jimaiza, north of Nyala, who left their camp in July to go back to plant their peanut fields. They were not worried about Arab militias raiding their village, they said. Those days seemed over. But then the Terjem-Mahria feud erupted.

“It was strange,” said Abakar Ahmed Abdul Rahman, a leader of the Fur tribe, which is non-Arab and the biggest in Darfur. “A few days after the fighting, a Mahria elder came up to me and said: ‘Tell your people not to go back to the camp. They’re safe in the village. We don’t have a problem with you.’ ”

But Mr. Abakar shook his head and laughed.

“I know these people,” he said. “They killed my wife and burned my hut. I’ll never trust them.”

Not all Arab tribes joined the bloodletting when Darfur exploded in 2003. But according to United Nations documents, the Mahria and the Terjem did.

The Mahria are nomadic camel herders from northern Darfur, rugged people of the desert whose militias have helped the Sudanese government patrol the long, sandy border with Chad. The Terjem are farmers and cattle herders who lived closely with the Fur. The Mahria knew how to fight. The Terjem knew where the Fur lived.

Together, the two tribes massacred many Fur villagers, according to United Nations officials and Fur survivors. Then they divvied up Fur land. But the partnership broke down late last year, when, Terjem leaders say, the Mahria kidnapped a 14-year-old Terjem boy. For their part, Mahria leaders say the Terjem started it by stealing Mahria animals, an act that had to be answered.

Juma Dagalow, a Mahria sheik, said that after one ambush in which Terjem gunmen killed many Mahria, he called other sheiks by satellite phone and rallied the troops.

“We went to that funeral to attack them, to finish the account,” the sheik explained, adding that his people were “a little aggressive.”

It was then that the wali stepped in. The wali, or governor, of South Darfur called a peace conference and urged neutral tribes to mediate a cease-fire.

The wali, Ali Mahamoud Mohammed, said in an interview that such clashes were “just a natural part of the life of the tribes” and something he had witnessed growing up in Darfur in the 1970s.

Mr. Ali said the fighting began in December, when the Mahria headed south on a seasonal migration with their camels and trampled through Terjem territory near the Bulbul River. The fighting predictably resumed in July, he said, when the Mahria trampled back.

The governor said he sent troops to Bulbul to quell the fighting. But the Arab-Arab bloodshed, fueled by an overflow of guns in Darfur and a breakdown in the traditional order, seems to be spreading faster than anyone can control. Several tribes have recently fought over land, livestock and the right to extort money along certain trade routes. Among those fighting: Hotiya versus Rizeigat (the Rizeigat are a huge tribe that includes the Mahria); Rizeigat versus Habanniya; Habanniya versus Salamat.

Tribal feuds that used to be reconciled by sheiks before the body count reached into the hundreds are now turning into tribal wars.

And there may be a connection to the rampant banditry, which seems to spare no one — not aid workers, villagers or even Sudanese government officials.

“As these groups split,” said Colonel Oladipo of the African Union, “banditry becomes the source for weapons, money and food in order to sustain their factions.”

The 50 miles of asphalt running between Nyala and the neighboring town of Kas, which cuts straight through a Terjem stronghold, have become bandit boulevard. On a single day in late August, there were six attacks. Traveling by road has become so dangerous in Darfur that the United Nations now uses helicopters to fly even 12 miles.

“There’s absolutely no law and order in this place,” said Annette Rehrl, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The insecurity has driven away some aid workers, United Nations officials said, with 12,300 working in Darfur, 16 percent less than last year.

It has also cemented tens of thousands of Terjem, who traditionally roam with their animals for part of the year, in internally displaced persons camps where they are not free to move. Out here, newly widowed women lie in plastic huts, flies exploring the corners of their eyes. Once proud sheiks have been reduced to carrying sacks of sand on their backs for work. A Terjem baby with a three-inch, bubbly scar at the base of her spine — a recent gunshot wound — howled her head off.

“We just sit here, hating ourselves,” said Mariam Mohammed, a wisp-thin Terjem woman who said her husband had been shot dead in front of her. “Just look at me. I’m half of what I used to be.”

(New York Times)
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