Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 19 June 2004

Sudan’s Final Solution

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, The New York Times

LONG THE SUDAN-CHAD BORDER , June 19, 2004 — In my last column, I wrote about Magboula Muhammad Khattar, a 24-year-old woman whose world began to collapse in March, when the Janjaweed Arab militia burned her village and slaughtered her parents.

Similar atrocities were happening all over Darfur, in western Sudan, leaving 1.2 million people homeless. Refugees tell consistent tales of murder, pillage and rape against the Zaghawa, Fur and Masalit tribes by the Arabs driving them away.

As this genocide unfolded, the West largely ignored it. That was not an option for Ms. Khattar and her husband, Ali Daoud.

The night after the village massacre, survivors slipped out of the forest to salvage any belongings and bury their dead. They found the bodies of Ms. Khattar’s mother and father; her father’s corpse had been thrown in a well to poison the water supply. Ms. Khattar was now responsible for her 3-year-old sister as well as her own two children.

Then, as they prepared the bodies, one moved. Hussein Bashir Abakr, 19, had been shot in the neck and mouth and left for dead, but he was still alive. His parents had both been killed, along with all his siblings except for one brother, who had been shot in the foot but escaped.

That brother, Nuradin, gave up his duty to bury their parents, choosing instead to carry Hussein into the forest and to try to nurse him with traditional medicines. Nuradin’s bullet wound made every step agonizing, but he was determined to save the only member of his family left. Over the next 46 nights, Nuradin dragged himself and his brother toward Chad.

Finally, they staggered over the dry riverbed marking the border, where I found them. Hussein has lost part of his tongue and many of his teeth and cannot eat solid food. He is sick and inconsolable; his wife and baby were carried off by the Janjaweed and haven’t been seen since. As I interviewed him, he bent over to retch every couple of minutes, Nuradin still cradling him tenderly.

Ms. Khattar and most of the other villagers decided they could not make the long trek to Chad. So they inched forward at night to find refuge on a nearby mountain.

Every other night, she crept down the mountain to fetch water, risking kidnapping by the Janjaweed. "It was so hard in the mountains," Ms. Khattar recalled. "There were snakes and scorpions, and a constant fear of the Janjaweed." Six-foot cobras have killed some of the refugees. To feed her children, Ms. Khattar boiled leaves and plants normally eaten only by camels. Even so, her mother-in-law died.

Officially, Sudan had agreed to a cease-fire in Darfur. But at the end of May, a Sudanese military plane spotted the villagers’ hideout, and soon after, the Janjaweed attacked.

"Ali had told me: `If the Janjaweed attack, don’t try to save me. You can’t help. Don’t get angry. Just keep the children and run away to Bahai [in Chad]. Don’t shout or say anything,’ " Ms. Khattar said. So she hid in a hollow with the children, peeking out occasionally. She saw the Janjaweed round up all the villagers, including her husband and his three young brothers: Moussa, 8, Mochtar, 6, and Muhammad, 4. "Even the boys," she remembers. "They tied their hands like this" - she motioned with her arms in front of her - "and then forced them to lie on the ground." Then, she says, the males were all shot to death, while women were taken away to be raped.

There were 45 corpses, all killed because of the color of their skin, part of an officially sanctioned drive by Sudan’s Arab government to purge the western Sudanese countryside of black-skinned non-Arabs.

The Sudanese authorities, much like the Turks in 1915 and the Nazis in the 1930’s, apparently calculated that genocide offered considerable domestic benefits - like the long-term stability to be achieved by a "final solution" of conflicts between Arabs and non-Arabs - and that the world would not really care very much. It looks as if the Sudanese bet correctly.

Perhaps Americans truly don’t care about the hundreds of thousands of lives at stake - we have other problems, and Darfur is far away. But my hunch is that if we could just meet the victims, we would not be willing to acquiesce in genocide.

After two Janjaweed attacks, Ms. Khattar was left a widow, responsible for three small, starving children in a land where showing her face would mean rape or death. I’ll continue her saga in Wednesday’s column.