Thursday, December 16, 2004

 

Ethnic cleansing in Darfur gets worse

I could blog every item on the Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau site. So just go read it all for yourself.

However, this needs to be brought to wider attention:
Arab herders take over lands of black African farmers who fled in fear

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Knight Ridder Newspapers

ARAMBA, Sudan - There are no black Africans in this sun-bleached valley.

Not in the shattered villages where circular huts, their roofs burned away, look like the Earth's rotting molars. Not in the empty market, where broken water pots and a girl's shoe haunt the charred ground.
All you see around this wasteland are their enemies.

In the past 14 months, hundreds of Arabs have arrived in Aramba with their families, belongings and livestock, taking over the farms of the Fur and other black African tribes of the Darfur region who fled the violence of war to squalid refugee camps or neighboring Chad. Here and in many other parts of the region, black Africans have no hopes of returning to their land despite cease-fires and the presence of African peacekeepers.

"The Fur used to live here," Muhammed Ahmed Rahman, 53, an Arab tribal elder, said Saturday as he stared at the line of coppery mountains that ring Aramba. "It's completely Arab now."

Human rights groups say what happened in Aramba is part of ethnic cleansing backed by Sudan's Arab-dominated government: The plan is to drive out Africans and replace them with Arab herders seeking scarce grazing land.

The Arab herders claim they're fleeing war, but the displaced people of Aramba don't believe it. "They have come because of the land," said Haroon Usman Adam, 50, a Fur tribal leader from north Aramba. "They know the land is good for grazing. And they know the owners of this land have run away."

"It's a type of colonization," chimed in Abbas Abdallah Saad, the paramount Fur leader of Aramba, who now lives in the town of Kebkabiya, 14 miles south.

Before the war between black African rebels and the Arab-led government ignited last year, some 3,000 black Africans and a few hundred Arabs lived in Aramba, according to Arab and Fur leaders. Now the Arabs number more than 2,000, and the Africans have fled to refugee camps or to Kebkabiya, where scores of families live in cramped compounds.

The new residents of Aramba allowed a Knight Ridder reporter and photographer to make a rare visit last weekend to their area, in the heartland of the pro-government Arab militias called the janjaweed, for two reasons: to show that they need humanitarian aid, and because they thought the visitors' translator was Arab. "If we didn't know you are one of us, we wouldn't bring you here," Rahman told the translator, who's half Arab.

Across these 4 square miles of scrawny bushes and sandy riverbeds, Arab nomads have erected tent settlements next to destroyed villages, watering holes and patches of green, fertile land.

Mile after mile is covered with the droppings of their huge herds. Over here, camels, cattle and sheep feast on black Africans' farms, where mango and guava trees grow. Over there, a dozen Arab militiamen - some in fatigues, others with guns - ride on camels and glare menacingly at visitors.

It's unclear how many other African areas in Darfur have been resettled by Arabs. Senior United Nations officials said they'd heard of such cases, and they fear that the land disputes could prolong the war. Already the 23-month war has killed an estimated 70,000 people and uprooted more than 1.6 million.

"There are groups, militia or tribes who are moving to places where other people have the right to live," said Jan Pronk, the United Nations' top envoy to Sudan. "That cannot be. That has to change."

Brig Gen. Abbas Nasr al Toum, the commissioner of Kebkabiya, said the government "had no intention of putting Arabs on non-Arab lands." Then, in the same breath, he said the Arabs had the right to occupy the land, despite the Fur having owned it - Darfur means "home of the Fur" - for centuries. "The land belongs to the government, not to persons," he said in an interview Sunday. "Every civilian has the right to move and settle on any lands they want."
Obviously, we've learned nothing from Armenia, the Holocaust, 1948, Bosnia or Rwanda. The Arab herdsmen are not clearly the villains here - they appear to be, not exactly victims, but if I were in their position, I might passively accept the benefits deriving from what the Sudanese government and the janjaweed militia did to the Fur, too.

I hope Knight-Ridder does a followup story on the displaced Fur - where did they go, what happened to them?

And what can we do to help?
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