'First came the planes … '; The destruction of a Darfur village 'It's the Sudanese army that did it'

The Toronto Star
Monday, August 9, 2004
Page: A1
Section: News
Byline: Levon Sevunts
Source: SPECIAL TO THE STAR

Every shop was looted and torched

FARAWIEH, SUDAN Omar Harir rhymes off the names of 16 friends and relatives murdered in a sudden raid on his Darfur village that saw its homes torched, wells poisoned and livestock stolen.

Some of the raiders who descended on Farawieh were militiamen, known as Janjaweed. But Harir and the other surviving villagers say the attackers also included Sudanese soldiers. The village was destroyed by agents of its own government.

Harir was in his shop when the onslaught began.

“First, they came with planes, Antonovs,” Harir said, sitting cross-legged in one of the abandoned houses.

“Then the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed. They came in a box formation and had surrounded the village from three sides.

“Nobody resisted them. People just run.”

Those who could find donkeys grabbed some food and water and fled to the desert that surrounds this village from every side, Harir said.

He ran too, with his wife and three children. They got across the border to Chad, some 70 kilometres across the desert, and settled in a refugee camp near the village of Bahai.

“But before we reached Bahai, many children died,” Harir said. “Many were exhausted and there wasn’t enough food and water for everyone.”

But Harir and a few of the men have since returned to take care of what remains of their village and their hastily abandoned livestock.

Some people are still hiding in the surrounding hills.

“When I came back,” Harir said on a tour of the village, “I found that my animals have been taken away by the Janjaweed, and my house and my shop have been burned to the ground.”

All that remains of Harir’s compound, where he lived with his extended family, is round mud-caked walls. Inside the empty shell are heaps of ash – what’s left of a conical straw roof. A line of black ash around the house marks where a wooden fence once stood.

The destruction brought upon this village was wanton and random.

Dozens of homes in the lower part of the village were burned. But other parts appear fully intact, from the outside at least. Inside, every house was looted, pottery and jars smashed, doors ripped off hinges.

Nouren Ahmad Omar was the village teacher. Now, as he surveys the looted, gutted school, he does not hide his disgust with the Sudanese government.

“It’s the Sudanese army that did it, not the Janjaweed,” he said, pointing to a pile of rubbish in his former office – torn schoolbooks, examination papers and attendance lists.

“What can we do if our government behaves like this. I beg you ask this question to the United Nations.”

Every single person in the village blames the destruction on the Sudanese government, which has denied attacking this ethnic African village and many others since such raids began last year. Government leaders point the finger at rogue elements in the Arab Janjaweed militia it created to combat an insurgency by two groups demanding greater representation in government and a share of resources.

But a U.N. investigator’s report Friday cited “overwhelming evidence” that Sudan’s military took part in widespread executions “in a co-ordinated manner” with Janjaweed marauders. The raids have killed an estimated 30,000 people and forced more than 1 million from their homes – a massive humanitarian crisis that led to the U.N. security council demanding Sudan disarm and begin to prosecute the Janjaweed before the end of August, or face unspecified political and economic penalties.

Here in Farawieh, the proof of government involvement in the attack is hard to miss. Right in the middle of the village lies a 250-kilogram unexploded aerial bomb. Russian markings on the bomb indicate that it was produced in the former Soviet Union. A few metres away is a huge crater from one of the bombs that did explode. So unless the nomadic Janjaweed learned to fly jets, it’s hard to explain how these bombs ended up in Farawieh.

Sudanese soldiers also left their mark on the infirmary. It was stripped of equipment and shot full of holes. The troops then used the building to range its heavy machine-guns, says Mussa Omar, a young rebel fighter armed with a stick and wearing traditional amulets on his shoulder.

At the nearby market, not a single structure remains. Every shop was looted and torched. Omar points to several safes lying in the pile of ash.

“The Sudanese army did this,” he says. “They didn’t have keys so they pried them open with crowbars and stole everything inside.

“Before the war, you could buy anything at this market. Look at it now!”

A few hundred metres away one of the village’s wells was blown up. All other wells were poisoned with dead animals. The village men who returned have managed clean up two of them.

“It’s the Sudanese army that did this,” said Omar, the village teacher. “They came in first and the Janjaweed came behind them.”

The village is now under the control of the Sudanese Liberation Army, one of the two rebel groups in Darfur.

About a dozen young men, many looking barely 18, boys really, have set up a checkpoint on the village outskirts. They sit in the shadow of a tree. A “technical,” the ubiquitous pick-up truck with a machine-gun mounted on top, is nearby.

Armed with an assortment of old Chinese-made AK-47 and British, German, and American rifles, they stand a chance perhaps against another incursion by the Janjaweed. In a fight with regular Sudanese troops they would be decimated in no time.

Villagers know this too. So while some have dared to come back, none have brought their wives and children.

“I’ll bring my family back only when there are international troops here, protecting us,” said Harir. “We can’t trust the Sudanese government.”

Levon Sevunts is a Canadian journalist travelling in Africa.

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