Evening prayers were over. But 27 of the black Christians, members of the Dinka tribe, lingered in their church in western Sudan. Suddenly, a gang of about 50 Arab Sudanese of the Rizeigat tribe attacked them with spears, knives, sticks, and a gun, beating them and chasing them away. No one was killed. But within 24 hours, as many as 1,000 Dinkas, would be dead in the same town. Most of them were burned or shot to death by angry Arab mobs in a police compound and in railroad cars, where they had fled as the violence mounted.
The March massacre of Dinkas in Diein, apparently the result of growing tensions between resident Muslim tribesmen and displaced persons who practice Christian or animist beliefs, was documented recently in a report by two non-Dinka lecturers at the University of Khartoum. It is the fullest account yet of what appears to be the largest massacre of civilians in Sudan since civil war broke out again here four years ago.
The report provides fresh insight into the social and economic conflicts between African tribes, and how war can worsen these tensions. Its authors, Suleyman Ali Baldo and Ushari Ahmad Mahmud, are calling for assistance to survivors, and for prosecution of those responsible for the killings. They are charging the government of Sudan with trying to ``cover up'' the details of the massacre. The government denies the charge.
The new report on the Diein massacre comes amid allegations of another massacre of civilians last month in the Dinka town of Wau, in southern Sudan. In that incident, according to Rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which is largely comprised of Dinka tribesmen, the Sudanese Army rounded up and shot some 600 civilians. The government denies the allegation.
Although the alleged massacre in Diein was not a military action, it followed several armed clashes in surrounding areas between the SPLA and the Rizeigat militias, which the government recently has begun to arm.
The SPLA wants greater autonomy for the south and an end to nationwide Islamic law imposed on the entire populace. The Sudanese government says it armed the enemies of the Dinka to protect them from SPLA attacks. But some Sudanese say the government hopes the armed Rizeigat will help it defeat the SPLA.
Whatever the reason, the government practice of arming the Rizeigat ``led to a massacre of this magnitude,'' Mr. Baldo, a lecturer, said in an interview.
He and Mr. Ahmed note that the roots of the massacre go deeper than the recent SPLA-Rizeigat clashes. They point to a web of causes, including generations of tribal conflict over cattle grazing areas and religious predjudice between the Muslim Rizeigat and the Dinkas who practice Christian or traditional beliefs.
And as more Dinka fled drought and war in rural areas to settle in Diein, a town of about 60,000, pressure for resources such as water grew.
At the same time, ``the social fabric of the Rizeigat community had started to disintegrate,'' according to the report. There were divisions among the young and old members, tension between the unemployed and wealthier members, and many Rizeigat youth had become involved in crime. These forces provided ``the psychosis necessary for the massacre,'' says the report.