In Darfur, rapes and shootings go on, despite peace agreement
|The Guardian , 15 Mai 2006|
Isaac Ibrahim Muhammad winced as he showed where the bullet had ripped through his left shoulder. Hanan Ahmed Hussein pulled her blue blanket over her head as she exposed the fresh gunshot wounds to her knee and wrist. Her one-year-old daughter Menazir smiled, though she too had experienced the burn of a bullet that passed through her foot.
Fatouma Moussa, 18, wrapped in a red shawl, showed no wounds and no expression. Perhaps she was thinking of her 10,000 dinars (£23) - the proceeds of three months of firewood collection - that was stolen by the Arab raiders who forced the passenger truck travelling to Menawashie to pull over on Thursday night. Or perhaps she was trying not to think at all.
We found the Janjaweed [government-backed militias]," she said in a tiny voice, as her mother watched over her. "I was raped."
Ten days ago in Abuja, Nigeria, the Sudanese government and the main rebel group in Darfur signed a peace agreement to end three years of fighting. A ceasefire was supposed to come into force 72 hours later. The deal, brokered by the African Union and international mediators, was hailed as a breakthrough - a significant step towards peace and ending the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
But little has changed on the ground in Darfur. African Union observers continue to chronicle tales of death and destruction. Rebel fighters and government soldiers eye each other nervously across the frontlines. Bandits attack with impunity. Defenceless civilians are as fearful of attack as ever.
Even a trip along the main road between El Fasher and Nyala, a rare strip of asphalt that slices through the desert and links the capitals of north and south Darfur, is fraught with danger.
Fatouma and 50 other passengers who had piled into a creaking open-top lorry set off from the market town of Shangil Tobayi, where she had gone to sell her firewood, at 5pm on Thursday.
An hour into the journey, with the desert still glowing in the thin late afternoon sunlight, raiders fired into the air to try to force them to stop but the lorry sped on past.
At the ghost town of Amar Jadid, long since emptied of its inhabitants, the gunmen were more ruthless.
According to Mustapha Abu Ahmed Said, a slight man wearing a dirty pinstripe shirt and sunglasses, three men with machine guns blocked the road and fired at the truck's tyres. They shot Mr Muhammad, the driver. Ms Hussein, her baby daughter, and three other people were also hit.
Everybody was forced off the truck and ordered to carry their cargo of millet, goats and cows into the scrub bush, where nine other armed men were waiting with a dozen camels.
"They told us that we were slaves and that they would finish us," said Hussein Ahmed Abdullah, who, like all the passengers, was robbed of his money and possessions. He and others said that the raiders then took 15 women aside and raped them before riding off into the night.
Some three hours later, guided by a full moon, the passengers stumbled into the sprawling village of Menawashie on foot. The wounded had managed to hitch a ride on a passing vehicle.
One woman died of her bullet wounds. She was buried in a simple grave, marked only by a mound of dirt.
An African Union military observer, who took careful notes from the eyewitnesses gathered next to the road that cuts through Menawashie, asked what the raiders looked like.
"They wore muftis and military uniforms," said Mr Abdullah. "They were Arabs. They were Janjaweed" - the tribal militias armed by the government and blamed for many of the worst atrocities, particularly mass rape, in Darfur.
Responsibility for escorting trucks along the road between Menawashie and Shangil Tobayi lies with the Sudanese government, under a deal brokered by the local African Union observers. But locals say that the police vehicle used for the escorts broke down three weeks ago and there have been no patrols since.