Darfur displaced say they still live in fear

Posted in Africa | 05-Dec-05 | Author: Mohammed Ali Saeed| Source: Mail & Guardian Online

An African Union peacekeeper guards a crowd in Darfur.
Civilians made homeless by the devastating civil war in Sudan's western region of Darfur say they remain prey to attack by militiamen because they are unable to survive on the meagre relief supplies provided in their camps.

In the huge al-Sereif and Otach camps near the South Darfur state capital of Nyala, women were among those who said they were forced to leave the protection of their tent cities to find food and firewood, despite persistent reports of rape of camp residents by the state-sponsored Arab militias.

"It is safe inside the camp but, outside of it, it is dangerous," said Hussein Hassan Abdul Rahman (83) at Otach camp, eight kilometres outside Nyala.

He said his wife had been attacked by Arab militiamen from the Habbaniyah tribe outside the camp seven months ago.

"She was stabbed with a bayonet and stayed in Nyala hospital for 16 days to get treated."

Abdul Rahman said the violence was all the more baffling, because although he had been born a Massalit, one of the non-Arab ethnic groups behind the uprising launched against the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum in early 2003, he had been assimilated into the Arab Rizeigat tribe among whom he grew up.

Despite his Arabic culture, the octogenarian said he was now too fearful to leave the camp.

"I may get killed and leave my children behind without anyone to take care of them," he said.

In the nearby Al-Sereif camp, Ishaq Yahia Nada (59) of the non-Arab Tama ethnic group said he and his wives had been attacked by Arab militiamen on one foray outside the camp.

"My wives and I go outside the camp to gather straw and firewood and sell for a living," he said, adding that his two wives had born him eight children.

One one occasion, militiamen on camels had attacked them and he had been "hit with an axe below my ear and remained in Nyala hospital for eight days to recover."

Fatima (55) a non-Arab Zaghawa, said African Union peacekeepers escorted the camp's women outside to look for firewood once a week on Tuesdays but added that it was not enough.

"We have to go and fetch firewood on other days, although we know it is risky because we may face Janjaweed [militiamen]," she said.

Chief Inspector Lydia Otu-Nyarku of Ghana, who heads the AU police force in the camp, played down the continuing security problems facing residents.

"We run patrols in shifts round the clock inside and around the camp along with a Sudanese police force," she said, adding that she had 23 officers at her command, five of them women.

"It has become safe and we are not facing any security problems, whether inside or outside the camp, and armed men quietly move away if they happen to see us patrolling outside the camps."

Camp director Ahmed Ali also played down the problems facing Al-Sereif's 13 682 displaced civilians.

"The IDPs [internally displaced persons] are leading a normal life in the camp and some of them have grown vegetables around their tents," he said.

Nonetheless, United Nations agencies remain sufficiently concerned about the continuing threat of violence against women that they organised a series of events in Nyala last week to promote awareness of the problem.

Women singers and traditional healers took part in the series of concerts organised by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Aid agencies have repeatedly condemned rape in Darfur, which they charge is being used as a tool of war, but there are no extensive and accurate statistics on the sensitive issue.

Earlier this year, two Médécins Sans Frontières aid workers were detained by the authorities after releasing a report on rape. Their teams had treated 500 rape victims in only five months and in two of Darfur's three provinces. - AFP