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Sudan makes case abroad while still bombing Darfur

President Omar al-Bashir says international interference will hamper peace. Darfuris ask: 'What peace?'

By Heba AlyContributor / October 9, 2008

Forced to flee: Recently displaced women at a camp in Darfur.

Heba Aly

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Tawila, Sudan

During the US vice presidential debate last week, Sen. Joe Biden (D) and Gov. Sarah Palin (R) found common ground on at least one topic: Both support imposing a no-fly zone in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

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Some 6,000 miles away, Darfuris fleeing their homes welcome such talk, especially after a recent spate of indiscriminate government bombings.

"The government said it was only looking for rebels. It said it didn't want to harm the people," says villager Abdullah Isshac, who spent one week hiding in the countryside after a government attack on the village of Khazan Tungur. "But the rebels are out in the mountains, not in the village."

To the outside world, Sudan's government sings a different tune, claiming since July – when the International Criminal Court (ICC) sought an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for his role in the Darfur conflict – that the prosecution of its leader would jeopardize the peace process. But as the situation on the ground here grows worse, Darfuris are asking: "What peace process are you talking about?"

Among the many symbols of war in Darfur – sprawling five-year-old camps for displaced people and an ever-growing African Union and United Nations peacekeeping mission – the bumpy road between Tabit and Tawila, two small villages in northern Darfur, offers a striking reminder that this conflict is still going strong.

The hour-long route passes through vast plains and mountain chains and is dotted with small villages – each telling its own story.

In Giringo, a crater three yards in diameter marks the spot where a government plane dropped a bomb just a few weeks ago – only yards away from a set of trees where villagers were seeking refuge from the hot sun.

In Umlaota, ashes and a roofless mud frame are all that remain of a civilian home that was burned by government troop gunfire the same day.

A few yards farther, casings from belt-fed machine guns are strewn across the main road passing by the village.

Stop by any of these villages at night and you will find them mostly empty. People sleep in the forests in hiding, afraid the attacks will continue.

The road to Tawila ends at the UN peacekeeping mission's base, just outside a camp for some 25,000 displaced people, with yet another sign of government attacks: A hole in the barbed razor wire surrounding the base, where desperate residents forced their way through to escape when government police raided their camp in May.

Sudan: ICC indictment hurts peace

But Sudan's government shows a different face to the world.

Vice President Ali Osman Taha told the UN General Assembly in New York late last month that the realization of peace in Darfur and the ICC's aims were two different tracks that could never meet. At a time when the government had made great strides to implement the peace and reconciliation process, he said, such an indictment would be detrimental.

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