Slavery regains foothold in regions of Sudan. Tribes use government-provided defensive arms to raid neighbors

Slavery, once commonplace among rival tribes but now largely an anomaly, has resurged in some regions of Sudan. Children and adults of the Dinkas, an African tribe living in remote areas of western Sudan, are being captured, mistreated, forced to work without pay, and sold by members of the Rizeigat, an Arab tribe, according to a report by two researchers at the University of Khartoum.

The slavery is linked to a government practice during recent years of arming the Dinkas' traditional enemies, say the researchers. The non-Muslim Dinka are the main source of recruits for rebel forces that are fighting the government for more autonomy and an end to Sharia (Islamic laws).

Traditionally, people were captured during cattle raids, enslaved, then returned after peace negotiations between feuding tribes. In the last few decades, this feudalistic system has largely disappeared.

But according to researchers Suleyman Ali Baldo and Ushari Ahmad Mahmud, the Rizeigat, with their government-supplied arms, are now staging large-scale raids in western Sudan, capturing Dinkas in ever greater numbers. They have enslaved an estimated 3,000 people, say the researchers, neither of whom are Dinka.

Two of the report's subjects, 30-year-old Abuk Tiyep and 12-year-old Abuk Diin (not related), were captured in January in a village in the Bahr el Ghazal region. In an interview with the Monitor they described how they were marched north for two days to a village in the Dafur region. After about 40 days of forced labor they escaped.

The problem is apparently not limited to western Sudan. This is happening ``all over the south,'' says Hassan al-Turabi, secretary-general of the National Islamic Front, the main opposition party. ``It is not formal slavery.'' But they are ``treated like slaves.'' The report suggests females are being sexually exploited.

The London-based Anti-Slavery Society for the Protection of Human Rights, plans to investigate reports on this issue, says Maureen Sinclair, its deputy director.

The government policy of arming the Dinka's enemies in the south and west is confirmed by foreign diplomatic, and local military and political sources. This policy, says Mr. Baldo, has ``given the phenomenon of slavery a real boost.''

Ismat Gabbani, press officer of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, said in a telephone interview that the arming policy ``was mainly to allow [the Rizeigat] the opportunity to protect against the raids of the rebels.''

The government, says Mr. Gabbani, has tried to reconcile the two tribes, but peace pacts usually fail within months.

Gabbani said he had not read the report by the Khartoum researchers. ``Regarding this thing of slavery, I don't know anything about it. We're going to look into it,'' he said.

A government official in Sudan was quoted in a local newspaper recently saying the government is no longer arming such tribes. But there have been no reports that it is taking steps to disarm them.

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