How tragic fuse was lit in Darfur
The UN determines this week whether Sudan's leaders have met Monday's deadline.
SELEYA CAMP AND KHARTOUM, SUDAN
Her charms are meant to keep away the devil. Little black leather pouches hanging around her neck, worn down by years of being rubbed between her fingers. But no, she half apologizes, they did not work. In this case, the "devil" came on horseback.Skip to next paragraph
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"We recognized them by their shapes," Ashura Abakar Adam Arasharo says of the men who burned her home and made her run for her life. She ran for two days, with her five children in tow. She left without any of her favorite head scarves or dishes - or her husband, whom she lost in the chaos. And now she sits in a camp for the internally displaced, in western Sudan, twisting her charms around in her fingers.
Neighbors. Acquaintances. Fellow Muslims. Classmates. Friends.
"We did not see their faces," says Ms. Arasharo. "But we know who they are."
Whether the crisis in Darfur is genocide is being debated in faraway congressional corridors and on TV talk shows. But what is clear on the ground is that the fragile, yet workable, relationship between Arab and ethnic African tribes here, sustained over generations, has been smashed to pieces during the last 18 months of violence.
"Maybe once, I could say hello to them in the market," says Arasharo. "But now they have all changed into janjaweed."
Janjaweed. The word translates loosely as devils on horseback and for years was a derogatory term thrown at lowly bandits. These days it is used for the Arab horsemen who, allegedly supported by the government, roam this vast swath of land terrorizing the Africans within the population, say refugees and outside observers.
Not all Arabs in Darfur are janjaweed, just as not all of the African civilians they are targeting are members of the rebel groups they claim to be fighting. But today, everyone has bunkered down, and few have time for subtle distinctions. These days there are only janjaweed and rebels.
Those rebels, who initiated the current crisis in February 2003 when they overtook cities in Darfur, continued to meet over the weekend in Nigeria for peace talks with the Sudanese government. The United Nations Security Council gave Sudan until Monday to disarm the janjaweed and bring them to justice, or face sanctions.
The UN wrapped up its fact-finding mission Saturday and Jan Pronk, the UN's envoy to Sudan, returned to New York to brief Secretary-General Kofi Annan. UN observers said that the situation had improved, though the killing continues. Rebel negotiators walked out of talks Saturday for 24 hours, protesting the killing of some 75 civilians in six Darfur villages over the previous three days. It is unclear whether Khartoum has done enough to ward off sanctions.
Far away from where Arasharo sits listlessly in her camp, Abdullah Adam Khatir is nursing a mango juice at his favorite cafe by the Nile in Khartoum, Sudan's capital.
"Oh dear, how different it used to be," begins the political commentator, a member of the Fur tribe who grew up in Darfur. "There were always tensions, of course," he says, settling in for a long tale. "But we worked it out."
Mr. Khatir is thinking back 30 years, to the time when he would travel from his home in Kebkabiyah to the region's boarding school in Zalingei. It was a three-day trek by camel and the schoolboys - Arab and African alike - would be decked out in brown uniforms, riding two to a hump. Every year their parents would gather a collection and hire a Arab nomad to lead the caravan. "We would call him 'uncle,' and he would give us water," says Khatir. "And we would love him."
But come the rainy season, continues Khatir, it was not uncommon for that same "uncle" to stomp through the family fields with his fellow nomads, looking for better pastures. "They would trample our [crops] and we would yell and scream and throw sticks," says Khatir. "That's the way it was."