Attacks in Sudan's Darfur region scare newly returned residents

Tribal clashes in West and South Darfur last month left about 250 people dead

A picture shows the South Darfur village of Hamada, north of the region's capital town Nyala on February 3, 2021, as residents return to the village. Darfuris who have longed been displaced are returning to their villages after the October peace deal between Sudan's transitional government and rebel groups. / AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY

Farmer Abbas Abdullah was among hundreds whotrickled back to his remote village in South Darfur nearly a decade after fleeing war there. Now, he thinks he rushed the decision.

Mr Abdullah, from the Bergid ethnic minority, was attacked last week by nomads on horses and camels at his farm in the village of Hamada, hundreds of kilometres west of the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

"They whipped me and forced me to stand under the scorching sun from the morning until sunset," said the 80-year-old, outside his hut in the village.

"They then allowed their livestock to graze on my crops. It was all destroyed."

A picture shows the South Darfur village of Hamada, north of the region's capital town Nyala on February 3, 2021, as residents return to the village. Darfuris who have longed been displaced are returning to their villages after the October peace deal between Sudan's transitional government and rebel groups. / AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY

Mr Abdullah said the assault was grimly reminiscent of the 2003 Darfur conflict in which now-ousted president Omar Al Bashir unleashedmilitias against marginalised minorities following an uprising against his rule.

In 2005, Hamada was raided by the notorious government-backed Janjaweed, who slaughtered cattle, burned farms and forced the village's 3,000 residents to seek refuge in grim displacement camps.

Mr Abdullah only returned to Hamada in 2016 after the conflict had largely subsided and a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission, Unamid, had launched regular patrols in the vast, arid region.

He resumed growing oranges, mangoes and vegetables, despite periodic clashesover livestock and access to water.

Things took a turn for the worse with last month's tribal clashes in West and South Darfur, which left about 250 people dead.

The clashes coincided with the end of Unamid's mandate in Darfur on December 31.

Like Mr Abdullah, many of the 700 villagers who returned to Hamada in recent years complained of a sharp rise in attacks.

Farmer Mohamed Adam says armed nomads have increasingly destroyed crops in his farm.

Khadija Bekhit, who regularly leaves the village to collect firewood for cooking, said she gets stopped by militias more than before.

"They beat us or hold us captive for hours," she said angrily.

Villagers say they had hoped to turn a page on ethnic violence following the toppling of Al Bashir by the military in April 2019 following mass protests against his rule.

Al Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over war crimes and crimes against humanity over his role in the Darfur conflict, which killed about 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN.

The civilian-majority post-Bashir transitional government agreed last year that he should stand trial before the ICC.

It also signed a landmark peace deal in October with the main rebel groups.

Following the recent violence, the government dispatched troops and police around the region.

But in Hamada, villagers say authorities have done little to prevent violence.

"There are only four policemen in our village and they don't even have a car to pursue attackers," said Mr Adam.

Bergid tribal leader Abdullah Mohamed fears the upsurge in attacks could prevent residents returning after years of displacement.

"They are less likely to return to the village now," he said.

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS