nyt: reporter accompanies african union observers in darfur ... inner-workings o

@andygogo (1580)
China
January 3, 2007 10:39pm CST
this is the most informative article on the situation in darfur that i've read so far. the reporter accompanied african union observers in sudan's darfur region, where fighting between arab and african tribes have caused upwards of 50,000 deaths and left as many as 2 million without a home. the article gives a rare view into the inner-workings of the militia ... the mysterious janjaweed that the sudanese government claims to know little about and cannot stop. i have not seen any other news piece give more details about who the perpetrators of the most horrible crimes are. this article is a good start to uncovering the true situation in darfur. these are the most telling paragraphs, in my opinion: "The fighters say they have been paid, clothed, trained and guided directly by the government since the eruption of a guerrilla war here in the west more than 18 months ago. They say they exist because the government called on them, nomadic Arab tribes, to defend their land against rebels from enemy African tribes. Those Arabs who were the first to take up the call to arms, it seems, had pending grievances with the Fur and the Zaghawa, the two principal African tribes behind the insurgency, grievances that had less to do with race than with disputes over land and water rights. Arabs are mainly nomadic herders; Africans are largely farmers." ts =============================== October 21, 2004 Rare Glimpse Inside Militia's Stronghold in Sudan New York Times By SOMINI SENGUPTA ISTARIHA, Sudan - This is the headquarters of the gunmen who have come to personify horror in Sudan: the pro-government militias deemed to be responsible for some of the most grotesque crimes of the war in Darfur. For members of a militia the government has promised to dismantle, they are living luxuriously. On the dry grass rests a satellite dish. Nearby is a sparkling mosque. Inside a freshly painted green building is a parlor outfitted with rare amenities - overstuffed vinyl sofas and ceiling fans that gently purr, with the aid of a generator. Men in fresh fatigues loll nearby. The uniforms are like those worn by the Sudanese military, with one important exception: they bear no insignias, no name tags. It is one measure of the lingering murkiness of these forces, their mission and their ties to Sudan's government. The chain of command under which they operate, their numbers, even the weapons they have at hand - all these things remain impossible to pin down. Foreign visitors are rare. A group of foreign journalists was allowed to visit recently only because they came with cease-fire monitors from the African Union, and only after an African Union commander pressed a Sudanese Army representative. If the gunmen have nothing to hide, he suggested, they ought to let in journalists. The local commander, Abdulwaheed Saeed, 40, agreed on condition that the journalists take no photographs and ask no questions at the base camp itself. As for the dangers of future prosecution in connection with war crimes, Mr. Saeed, a 21-year-veteran of the Sudanese Army, was uncowed. "I am a military man," he bellowed. "If I am taken to court, so will all the government. We are in this together." Therein lies a problem for the government, which has alternately denied its links to these fighters - calling them janjaweed, or bandits who take advantage of the war - and defended the existence of legitimate paramilitary forces to help guard Sudan against a rebellion. Contrary to promises made to the United Nations, the government has not begun to identify the militiamen under its influence, let alone disarm them. "To our knowledge," said Radhia Achouri, the spokeswoman for the United Nations mission in Khartoum, the government "has not instructed them to cease acts of violence and to lay down their weapons." If anything, government officials have lately turned the tables and asked the international community for help in identifying the "real" janjaweed. Yet in nearby Kabkabiya, a man who described himself as the militia's legal adviser, Omar el-Amin, said the fighters, whom he estimated at 2,000, collect a government salary equivalent to about $11 a month. "They work under official military command," he said. The fighters say they have been paid, clothed, trained and guided directly by the government since the eruption of a guerrilla war here in the west more than 18 months ago. They say they exist because the government called on them, nomadic Arab tribes, to defend their land against rebels from enemy African tribes. Those Arabs who were the first to take up the call to arms, it seems, had pending grievances with the Fur and the Zaghawa, the two principal African tribes behind the insurgency, grievances that had less to do with race than with disputes over land and water rights. Arabs are mainly nomadic herders; Africans are largely farmers. The men here eschew the term janjaweed, an insult in Arabic that translates roughly as evildoers on horseback. Instead, they variously call themselves the Border Intelligence Guard, the Second Reconnaissance Brigade, "the Quick and the Horrible," or simply mujahadeen. They owe their allegiance to one man: Musa Hillal, a notorious Arab tribal leader whom human rights groups and foreign officials, including from the United States, regard as a ringleader responsible for the atrocities committed by his forces. In published interviews, Mr. Hillal has said he was enlisted to recruit pro-government militiamen when the Darfur rebellion first emerged in early 2003. Documents disclosed through Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, show how local government officials allowed Mr. Hillal's men to operate with impunity. For Khartoum to abandon him now would very likely be perilous. "He doesn't need the government, the government needs him," said Ghazi Suleiman, a human rights advocate who calls himself Mr. Hillal's friend. "In the law, we call him an accomplice." Mr. Hillal is sequestered in the capital and, friends say, kept under close watch by state security forces. He no longer entertains foreign journalists. Najib el-Kheir Abdelwahab, a Sudan state minister for foreign affairs, went as far as to suggest that to take aim at Mr. Hillal would be to invite a tribal war. Observers from the African Union say there is no question that the paramilitary outfit here, whatever its name, is in the vanguard of the government's counterinsurgency effort in the western Sudan. In turn, they say, these fighters are responsible for some of the most egregious human rights violations over the last year and a half: burning villages, gang-raping women, slaughtering civilians who belong to enemy African tribes. The African Union monitors say it is semantics to quibble over whether these fighters are regular military or irregular militia. "As far as I'm concerned, there's no difference," said Cmdr. Seth Appiah-Mensah of the Ghanaian Navy, who serves as the African Union commander for this fractious sector of North Darfur. "I would say the janjaweed is, for now, the government-backed militia who go about persecuting, harassing innocent civilians with impunity." These days, by all independent accounts, their large campaigns of devastation have stopped, though harassment continues, particularly of women. The gunmen seem under no pressure to hide. They cruise from town to town on market days, buying grain and cigarettes, ancient machine guns on their shoulders. For now, this modest batch of unarmed African Union monitors serve as the sole eyes and ears of the outside world. Their resources are as limited as their authority. Two teams of eight monitors, including a representative from the government and one each from the two rebel factions, are responsible for scouring these hills and plains. Their mandate, under a hard-fought agreement with the government, is to monitor cease-fire violations, not to enforce the law. Barely 300 monitors are here now, plus a small band of armed soldiers mandated to guard them. More monitors are on the way. After months of balking, the government has agreed to allow up to 4,000 African Union troops to enter Darfur. But, African Union officials say, they will be useless unless the facilities - tents, water tanks, trucks, fuel - can be set up beforehand. Even now, 300 African Union troops are biding their time in the provincial capital, El Fashir, because the resources have not yet arrived to deploy them. For those who are here, like Maj. Panduleni Martin from Zambia and his team, delicate diplomacy is required. On this morning, he and his team ventured into Mistariha. As they did, they passed one torched, abandoned village after another. The Sudanese military representative, Lt. Col. Abu Asala Majzoub, sat quietly in the passenger seat, occasionally leafing through a prayer book. He said he had no idea who had burned the villages. Every now and then, a shepherd from an Arab tribe could be seen guiding a flock of sheep, or a camel, through the blackened remains. On the bank of a dry river bed waited Mr. Saeed, the militia commander, and a company of half-dozen of his men perched in a pickup truck. One gingerly approached the African Union monitors. He extended his hand to one of the rebel members of the team. They exchanged pleasantries about the quality of camel's milk in the area. Mr. Saeed complained that rebels had burst into a nearby village two days ago and stolen some cattle. Major Martin urged him to file a formal report. The major then met another uniformed man who gave his name as Muhammad Hamdan. He identified himself a member of the "civil defense," then as a mujahadeen. Then he offered a trickle of contradictions about his history in the force, finally telling Major Martin that he joined in response to a government call last year to protect the land. Once this war is
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