Home | News    Sunday 26 December 2004

FEATURE: Sudan’s bloody Darfur sees more misery on horizon

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By SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN, Knight Ridder News Service

KAS, Sudan, Dec 25, 2004 (KRT) — In his pocket, Hamid Rahman carries a list of rape victims to remind him of the past. And in his hand, a silver radio to hear what the future holds for his troubled province of Darfur.

A Sudanese girl is embraced by her sister at Abushouk camp near El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, November 23, 2004.. (Reuters).

Eight months after he fled Kailek, his home village 40 miles from here, his list has gotten longer and more wrinkled. And the tinny speakers of his radio have carried little more than unending reports of violence. His world has shrunk to a squalid refugee camp, where fear and uncertainty shackle him.

’’I have no freedom, no security. I am in a prison,’’ Rahman said in front of the igloo-shaped tent he calls home. ``I was not expecting to be here until now.’’

This year, the United States and other Western nations focused on solving the crisis in Darfur, giving it the attention seldom given to African trouble zones.

Yet tens of thousands were killed, and the violence, described by the Bush administration as genocide, shows no signs of fading. Little has changed for more than 1.6 million people chased from their villages. Now, many here feel a growing sense of abandonment and worry their future is turning as dark as their past.

’’We were expecting the international community to come and save us from this genocide. But nothing happened,’’ said Adam Muhammed Adam, a village elder from Kailek.

DASHED HOPES

Rahman was last interviewed by Knight Ridder in May, shortly after he, his family and dozens of others arrived in Kas. Kailek had been a scene of carnage and cruelty for months. Two of Rahman’s sons, ages 3 and 6, had been killed in February and his wife gang-raped when Arab janjaweed militiamen and government troops overran their village.

For the next two months, the town became what a U.N. official at the time called a ’’concentration camp,’’ featuring torture, forced starvation, rape and executions.

Humanitarian aid workers stumbled upon the town in April and raised the alarm, insisting the villagers be allowed to flee.

Since then, Rahman and the rest have ridden an emotional roller-coaster that is typical of Darfur this year — hope rising with every cease-fire, every international condemnation, only to fall with every clash, every broken promise.

His son Anwar, 10, can’t forget watching the slaughter of his two younger brothers and waits for the day he’s old enough to wield a gun or a knife.

And his daughter Sumia, 16, hides a dark secret she revealed to a reporter during an interview last week. She’s been raped twice — once in Kailek, and a second time outside Kas. She’s too scared and too ashamed to tell her father.

’’I haven’t told anybody,’’ she said, staring down at the dirt. ``That’s the reason why my name isn’t on the list.’’

TALES OF ATROCITIES

What unfolded in Kailek is now emerging as one of the most horrific acts of cruelty perpetrated in Darfur’s conflict, which pits black African rebels against the Arab-led government.

Two weeks ago, a United Nations commission spent several days interviewing survivors, noting their testimonies and the locations of possible mass graves in Kailek.

In Kas, thousands now live in a dense labyrinth of mud and straw huts roofed with blue and white U.N. tarpaulin, resurrecting Kailek as best as they possibly can. Rahman and his family live in the same spot, in the same school compound, as they did in May. The human fallout from Kailek fills every patch around them.

Rahman kept up his list. On June 16, Arab militiamen raped four Kailek women outside Kas when they went to fetch firewood, he noted.

In late June, the villagers heard on the radio that Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan were both in Sudan on a high-powered mission to pressure the government into resolving the crisis. The survivors were thrilled.

’’We thanked God,’’ recalled Adam Bashir, 44, a Kailek elder and survivor. ``We thought if they can’t help us, no one could.’’

But on July 2, even as Annan and Powell drew a promise from Sudanese officials to disarm the janjaweed, Rahman noted another incident: Arab militiamen beat six women coming home from earning a few pennies on a nearby farm.

In September, Rahman heard on his radio that the Bush administration had declared the violence genocide. Now, the international community must take action, he recalled thinking.

’’I felt that my life was going to get better,’’ said Rahman.

Ten days later he pulled out his list again. Six more women were raped. He didn’t know about a seventh — his daughter.

Sitting inside their hot, cluttered tent, Sumia said seven men in fatigues gang raped her and a friend as they came back from collecting firewood, used to cook food and trade for household goods.

’’I didn’t expect this would happen again,’’ she said, her voice disappearing in the giggles of barefoot children playing outside.

NOWHERE TO TURN

Today, the villagers of Kailek are still penned in by violence. Two weeks ago, two women traveling in a car owned by a Western aid agency were dragged out and raped, according to the victims and elders. Militiamen beat a man and stole his ax.

’’We are being attacked only a half-kilometer outside of here,’’ said Adam Bashir, 44, a Kailek elder.

``How can we go back to Kailek when only a half kilometer outside of here the world is so different?’’

There’s not much left to go home to. The bumpy, desolate road to Kailek is one that even the United Nations and relief agencies won’t travel. Desolate farms, once occupied by black Africans, now host Arab nomadic homesteads with huge tents, wooden fences, and animal pens that evoke a sense of permanence.

Village after village is destroyed. Beautiful pink flowers bloom on this violated landscape like a hint of something long forgotten.

The only living souls belong to a group of policemen and soldiers who play dominoes on long, listless days waiting for the people of Kailek to return, to protect them.

They’ve been here since July.

’’If we try to go back, one thing will happen: Death,’’ said Bashir.

Last week, 10-year-old Anwar’s two dead brothers visited him in a dream, he said. Ahmed wore a jelabiya, a traditional white Sudanese robe. Muhammed wore a Western shirt and trousers.

’They asked me: `How long will you stay here?’ ’’ said Anwar.

When asked his reply, the child looked at his father standing by their tent, clutching his silver radio, the list in his pocket. Then Anwar shrugged his small shoulders and said: ``I didn’t answer them.’’

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Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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