Home | News    Thursday 19 October 2006

Janjaweed defector confesses Sudan’s atrocities in Darfur

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By Martin Fletcher

Oct 18, 2006 (LONDON) — Outside the back window Bakerloo Line trains rattle past. Downstairs someone makes tea. But in the upstairs living room of a nondescript house off Lambeth Road in South London a slight, softly spoken young man tells a story of atrocities in a far-off land that is anything but mundane.

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Dily, a Sudanese Janjaweed speaking to BBC Newsnight programme on Wed 17 Oct 2006 (The Times)

Dily, a Sudanese Arab, recounts how for three years he and his fellow Janjawid charged the farming villages of Darfur on their camels and horses, raking the huts with gunfire and shouting: “Kill the slaves. Kill the slaves.”

He reckons he attacked about 30 villages in all, and cannot count the people he shot. The villages were invariably destroyed, he says. The homes were burnt to the ground and the men, women and children killed — sometimes with the help of government airstrikes. If there were survivors “they would be left there . . . They couldn’t get help. Sometimes they made it to camps but mostly they died of thirst or starvation”.

Dily is a rarity in that wretched conflict. Filled with disgust, he finally escaped the Janjawid’s clutches and last month, with the help of “people smugglers”, reached Britain, where he is now seeking political asylum. He expresses remorse. He is willing to talk, and the story he tells flatly contradicts the Sudanese Government’s claims that it has no control over the Janjawid — the predominantly Arab “devils on horseback” who have driven two million of Darfur’s black Africans into camps and killed at least 200,000.

He says the Government deceived innocent Arab shepherds like himself into joining the Janjawid, saying they had to defend their communities against attack by Darfur’s black African rebel groups. He says they were trained and armed by Sudanese soldiers, ordered by the Government to attack Darfur’s villages and given military support when necessary. The Janjawid was formed for ethnic cleansing, he insists. “Why (else) would you attack villages, kill people, displace them and kill them in their thousands?”

Dily is not his real name, and he would be photographed only with a scarf around his face and a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. His wife and young child remain in Sudan and he fears for their safety if he is identified.

Nor can Dily’s story be independently verified, but he specifies names, places and events, speaks with the accent and idiom of the area he says he comes from, and has persuaded Darfuris living in Britain that he is genuine.

“He’s for real,” said Ishag Mekki, the deputy chairman of the Darfur Union, which represents Darfuris in Britain. James Smith, the chief executive of the Aegis Trust, a pressure group which campaigns against genocide, concurs: “We’ve checked his credibility as much as we can and we’re convinced he is who he says he is.”

Dily, who is in his early twenties, rarely smiled and fidgeted nervously with his hands as he spoke through an interpreter. He said he was tending his family’s camel herd in northern Darfur when rebel groups began attacking government targets in 2003: severe droughts had set black African farmers against nomadic Arabs and the rebels accused the Government of siding with the Arabs.

Dily said he was pressed to join the Janjawid by tribal elders, who were under pressure from government officials. “We were told we were Arab nomads and we had to protect our lands and our cattle,” he said.

Dily and about 20 other youths from his area rode off on their camels to a training camp near the town of Kebkabiya where they joined hundreds of other Janjawid recruits. He says uniformed Sudanese soldiers spent about 20 days teaching them how to use guns — a Kalashnikov in his case — and attack villages.

Those with camels were separated from those with horses. They were organised into battalions of more than 500 men each. They were paid two million Sudanese pounds — roughly £500 — for the use of their camels and promised a monthly salary of 500,000 Sudanese pounds.

Then they were unleashed. Apart from occasional visits home, Dily and his battalion — led by a former bandit — spent the next three years on the move, destroying one village after another. “The Government said attack all villages. The local commanders decided which,” he said.

The battalion would send scouts to check whether there were armed fighters in the targeted village. “If there were no fighters we just attacked straight away. If there were we had to be more cautious.” Sometimes they used satellite telephones to request airstrikes by the Sudanese military helicopters before attacking. “We would see smoke and fire and then we would go in.”

The attacks usually started early and lasted most of the day. The commanders said the villages had to be destroyed, and they did not spare women or children. “Mostly they said “Kill the blacks. Kill the blacks,” Dily said. “The majority of (the victims) were civilians, most of them women.”

Dily said he never raped a woman but other Janjawid did. “They took girls and women away, just out of sight, and started to rape them. Sometimes you heard gunshots if they refused.” They took away the cattle. Some were drunk.

Dily said he felt no elation during or after the attacks. He and his colleagues did not even know what they were fighting for, but faced execution if they disobeyed orders. “I hated the war and I hated the killings and decided to leave and to leave Sudan altogether,” he said.

One night he slipped away from the camp, risking death and knowing that he might never see his wife and child again. He hid in the mountains for three days, then made his way to the town of Kutum. A fellow Arab drove him to Mellit, and from there he was smuggled by car to the Libyan border for 500,000 Sudanese pounds. He was determined to reach Britain because, he was told, “it’s different from other European countries. They look after refugees”.

He borrowed money from friends of his father in Tripoli’s Sudanese community and paid $1,200 (£640) to reach Italy on a small boat packed with 25 other illegal immigrants. He paid another $200 to reach Paris by train and $300 to be smuggled into Britain in a lorry carrying boxes of bottled water.

He arrived somewhere — he thinks Oxford — on September 20. He was arrested and sent to Croydon to apply for asylum. He is now living in a hostel, haunted by memories of burning villages. “Anybody who participates in war has to feel sorry for what happened,” he says.

The Aegis Trust plans to present Dily’s testimony to the International Criminal Court as evidence of genocide by Sudan’s leaders, who are still refusing to let United Nations troops into Darfur. “Everything this man says confirms that the Government of Sudan, contrary to its protestations, has been organising and supporting the Janjawid’s ethnic-cleansing operations from the beginning,” said Dr Smith, of the Trust.

Told of Dily’s testimony on a BBC Newsnight programme, Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary who has just returned from a visit to Sudan, said: “It’s clearly very serious evidence and I would urge that that information is passed to the International Criminal Court investigators.”

THE CONFLICT IN DARFUR

February 2003 The Darfur Liberation Front, later the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), claims discrimination by the mainly Arabic Government against black Africans

Spring 2004 Government is accused of using Arab militia — Janjawid — against SLA

January 2005 UN reports that Government and militias collaborated to commit atrocities, but “genocidal intent appears to be missing”

May 2006 Government and SLA sign peace deal, promise to disarm the Janjawid

August 2006 Janjawid still armed. UN resolution calls for a peacekeeping force

September 2006 African Union ignores order to leave

October 2006 Bush imposes further sanctions

(The Times)

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