More Massaleit Civilians die in Arab Militia Attacks in Western Sudan
Author: Mr. Mohamed Adam Yahiya, Spokesman of the Massaleit Representatives in Exile,
April 25, 2000
The recent changes in the Sudanese National Islamic Front (NIF) regime, which have been lauded in domestic and international political circles, have not been matched by significant human rights improvements in western Sudan. The marauding Arab militias continue to wreck havoc on the security of Massaleit civilians as they have done for the past two years, causing thousands of refugees to flee to other places within and outside the Sudan. These militias have continued to perpetuate serious human rights violations despite the deployment of large numbers of government soldiers purportedly to restore peace. Early this year, two attacks by Arab militias against the Massaleit caused the deaths of scores of civilians and huge losses of property.
In the first attack, in early February 2000, four persons returning to their villages from Geneina, the capital of Western Dar Fur State, were attacked and killed by militia members. One of the dead Massaleit was returning to the village of Murne, about 5 miles south of Geneina. The other victims were returning to villages to the east of Geneina, one to the village of Duet and the other two to the villages of Berte and Kuka.
In the second attack, at the end of February 2000, more than fifty persons from the Massaleit village of Geriko, located to the north of the town of Foroboranga on Sudan’s border with the Central African Republic, were killed by the militias. Militiamen also set many houses ablaze and stole a large herd of livestock. Not surprisingly, the victims of the attack were predominantly Massaleit civilians although some members of minority African groups (including Fur, Dagu and Senyar) living in the village suffered casualties. The attackers rode horses and carried automatic machine guns and other deadly weapons. At the conclusion of their attack they split into two groups that escaped in separate directions, one group rode eastwards in the direction of Nyala, the capital of Southern Dar Fur State, and the other group moved towards Chad. However, these movements seem to have been intended to distract attention away from the attackers ultimate destination at Wade Saleh.
Wade Saleh is a group of formerly Fur villages close to Jebel Marra which have been settled by Arab militiamen and their families following the eviction or flight of the original non-Arab inhabitants during the brutal conflicts of the late 1980s between the Fur and Arab ethnic groups. In 1989, an attack on Danbar, one of the villages in the Wade Saleh, left 226 people dead from the non-Arab population. Many people were unaccounted for following this incident and more than likely found themselves forced into servitude. A Fur child abducted by the Messiriya Arabs reappeared 8 years later to recount his sojourns in Chad and stories about his captors’ attempts to change his identity.
The Arabization of Wade Saleh, formerly known as Gar Sila when it was populated by numerous ethnic groups of which the largest was the Fur, was an expression of a broader and deliberate policy to alter the ethnic composition of the area at the expense of the non-Arab ethnic groups. This process of ethnic cleansing was encouraged by the government to undermine and intimidate the non-Arab population of Western Sudan because the government suspected that the non-Arab population sympathized and supported the armed anti-government rebels. When an SPLA force under the command of Daoud Bolad infiltrated into Wade Saleh in 1991, the Sudanese government army relied heavily on the active support of local Arab militias to defeat the rebels. This government-Arab militia alliance has continued to hold and it prevents the government, despite its claims to the contrary, from playing the role of the honest arbiter in the ongoing conflict in Western Sudan.
The bias of the government is easy to discern. During the recent conflicts between the Massaleit and the Arab militias, government soldiers disarmed the Massaleit but not the Arab militias, creating a completely one-sided balance of power. Moreover, the government infringed upon the traditional leadership structure of the region. Many Massaleit Emirs, Omdas and Shiekhs were replaced by Arabs, which resulted in interethnic tensions and ultimately violence. Having installed puppet local leadership, the government proceeded to push through controversial policies without fear of significant retribution. For example, fictitious and backdated land ownership documents were issued to Arab occupiers of lands belonging to peoples who had been ethnically cleansed. It is unlikely that the return of peace would change this new fait accompli because the original owners of these lands, if they were able to return, might not have the evidences to challenge these ‘facts’ before a prejudiced administration.
The implementation of these policies took place in an atmosphere of disinformation by the government-controlled media through agents of the state or the official party. Perhaps the most explicit example of the government’s use of the media to promote its racist agenda was the pronouncements of the Sudanese Minister of Interior, Mr. Abdel Rahim Muhammad Hussein, at the beginning of the conflict between the Arabs and the Massaleit. Hussein announced to the media in early 1998 that the Massaleit had become fifth columnists who had killed all the Arab Omdas in western Dar Fur. The result of the racist and malicious propaganda was obvious; Arabs in other places inside or outside the country rushed to rescue their kinsmen from annihilation. Thousands of people were killed, maimed or evicted from their homes. The mass media actively misrepresented the scale of the suffering, downplaying the level of conflict and downsizing the casualties. For instance, in the aftermath of the recent attacks, the media characterized the events as a fight in western Dar Fur between a herdsman and a farmer in which one of them died but the situation was brought under control. Such false information is often difficult to counter because of the remoteness of the region and the restrictions of government policy constrain access by international NGOs and independent monitors. Even the telephone access to Geneina is noticeably more difficult following periods of serious breaches of security.
The recent behavior of the Arab militias against the Massaleit civilians casts doubts on any change in the government stance towards human rights. These militias operate with the backing and in tandem with government soldiers deployed in western Sudan to restore peace. There is a strong need to focus attention on the actions of the government and the Arab militias in western Sudan.
Mr. Mohamed Adam Yahiya,
Spokesman of the Massaleit Representatives in Exile
April 25, 2000