Sudanese-backed janjaweed are escalating a racist conflict beyond Darfur into nearby Chad. Does the West care enough to stop it?

MICHAEL PETROU December 11 2006


Sudanese-backed janjaweed are escalating a racist conflict beyond Darfur into nearby Chad. Does the West care enough to stop it?

MICHAEL PETROU December 11 2006



Sudanese-backed janjaweed are escalating a racist conflict beyond Darfur into nearby Chad. Does the West care enough to stop it?


Abdullah Idriss began to lose his normally cheerful disposition about one year ago, when Arab janjaweed raiders looted the last of his cattle. He became nervous and withdrawn. Still, the young father of two, a member of Chad’s Dajo tribe who lived about 10 km from the Sudanese region of Darfur, tried to provide for his wife and two young children by growing and selling grain and produce— a lifestyle change for a man whose family had always kept livestock.

But the raids and looting continued. Dajos, and members of other black tribes in Chad, tried moving their villages together to protect themselves by force of numbers. They formed patrols to guard their farms. But the black tribesmen were armed with only bows and arrows and spears. The Arabs had machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and pickup trucks, and they could loot at will.

At first, the raiders swathed their faces to disguise themselves, but their victims soon recognized them as local Arabs with whom they had traded and even married for decades. These locals were joined by other Arabs with unfamiliar faces. Sometimes they wore military khakis and rode camels with brands identifying the animals as belonging to tribes in Sudan.

The severity of the attacks escalated from theft to murder. One morning earlier this fall, during the celebration of Ramadan, traditionally a time of piety and restraint, Arab raiders attacked the village of Miramanege, killing seven and capturing 21 men, including Adam Daoud Gammar, Abdullah Idriss’s nephew. “Forty horsemen rode into the vil-

lage while others stood outside with guns. They attacked everyone inside the village and then came after those of us in the fields,” Gammar says. “When they caught us, they tied our hands behind our backs and dragged us to a nearby Arab village. Then they began hauling groups of five away, but not so far that the rest of us couldn’t watch. The Arabs shot them one by one. If the gun jammed, or if the bullet did not kill the victim, they took sticks, stones, knives, anything at all, and they beat them until they were dead.”

Gammar watched 10 of his fellow villagers murdered this way; all the while he tugged and strained against the ropes binding his wrists. He finally loosened his bonds. When his captives came to take his group to their deaths, Gammar slipped free. The horsemen charged after him but could not manoeuvre quickly around the thatched huts, and Gammar evaded them. He plunged into a field of sorghum, and ran.

Gammar came back later that evening with local police and found 15 bodies strewn on the ground. He hoped for a moment that the missing five had somehow gotten away alive. Then they saw thick tracks through the sand where something heavy had been dragged. The Arabs had tied ropes around the necks of the five Dajos and pulled them behind their horses until the men died. When Gammar found their bodies, some were missing their heads. Hidden gunmen shot at Gammar and the police as they tried to bury the dead.

Gammar moved to the village of Koloy, where some 5,000 Dajo and members of other black tribes in Chad were sheltering from marauding janjaweed. A water pump was still functioning just outside the village, but the women sent to fetch water were raped as soon

as they left the settlement.

Here, Gammar was reunited with his uncle, Abdullah Idriss. Idriss’s own village of Modoyna had been attacked and burned, and his family had also fled to Koloy. On Nov. 11, Idriss took a donkey back to his village to see if there was anything left to recover. While he was gone, hundreds of janjaweed on horseback and camels surrounded Koloy. They began their attack just as Idriss returned. Other villagers had already fled, but Idriss didn’t know an attack was coming until it was too late. The janjaweed saw Idriss and charged after him on horseback. Idriss jumped off his donkey and ran. The janjaweed opened fire.

“None of the bullets hit him,” says Gammar, who had hidden himself and saw everything that happened next. Gammar said that the janjaweed bullets did not harm his uncle because he was wearing a leather amulet containing verses from the Koran, as do many blacks in Chad who feel they need extra protection. “They chased him down on their horses. The horses knocked him over, and when he fell six men leaped on top of him. One man sat on each leg and on each arm. They held his face to the sky. Another stood over Idriss with a rifle, but when he pulled the trigger nothing happened because of the holy amulets. Abdullah knew who his attackers

were, and he called out to them by name, begging them to stop. But the man with the rifle removed its bayonet. He kneeled on Abdullah’s chest. He took his knife and dug out each of Abdullah’s eyes.”

Today, Abdullah Idriss lies sightless in a bare-bones field hospital in Goz Beida, in southeastern Chad, surrounded by dozens of other victims of janjaweed attacks. His wife Mariam cooks food with the other wives and mothers in the hospital’s sandy yard, and brings it to his bed along with their two children, Bushra, 5, and Yasin, 2. She looks almost overcome with despair. When Abdullah’s mother heard what had happened to her son, she was so stricken that she needed to be hospitalized herself.

Adam Daoud Gammar also spends much of his time at the hospital, trying to comfort his uncle and support their family. “Before all this happened, Abdullah was happy and lived a normal life,” Gammar says. “He had cows, and he had good relations with everybody. Now perhaps he would be better off dead.”

ABDULLAH IDRISS is only one of a growing number of victims in a rising tide of slaughter that has washed over Darfur’s borders and now threatens to engulf eastern Chad.

After three years of ethnic cleansing and

genocide against non-Arab blacks in Darfur— a horror the world has been unwilling, or unable, to address—Arab janjaweed and their patrons in the government of Sudan have turned their sights on black villages across the border, where the Chadian government of Idriss Deby is incapable of securing the safety of its own citizens. In addition to the janjaweed, several rebel groups intent on overthrowing Deby’s government are now active in Chad and have recently assaulted several major towns in the east of the country. Deby accuses Sudan (pop. 41 million), of supporting the Chadian rebels, and most observers believe he is correct. At least one of the rebel columns reportedly entered Chadian territory from Sudan.

The janjaweed push into Chad (pop. 10 million) is a dangerous escalation of a conflict fuelled by a racist ideology. Estimates of the death toll range from 200,000 to 500,000— it’s a safe bet that a quarter of a million people have been slaughtered, and another two million displaced. The West has watched this unfold for three years, and despite all attempts by the government of Sudan to hide what is happening in its country, we will never be able to claim we didn’t know what was occurring, or, as was the case with the genocide in Rwanda, that the murder and mayhem un-

folded too quickly. This is genocide in slow motion, well documented and undeniable.

The government in Khartoum, led by Omar al-Bashir, has stalled, lied and frustrated all attempts to find a diplomatic solution. But the rest of the world appears willing to play along and pretend that diplomacy might someday work, because the alternative—intervening in Darfur without Sudanese consent—is daunting. Darfur is roughly the size of France. The terrain is harsh. There are few roads, and these are often washed out during the rainy season. And a Sudanese war against unwelcome international forces would likely attract volunteer militants from outside Sudan. Innumerable things could go wrong.

Khartoum has so far allowed 7,000 African Union soldiers into the country—a minuscule force that has been unable to curb the violence. The United Nations has asked the Sudanese government to approve expanding the outside contingent to 20,000—which it has refused to do. The logistics become even more daunting when the prospect of armed intervention is raised. In Iraq, for example, a U.S.led coalition of some 166,500 troops is unable to stop that country’s slide into anarchy. Some experts say that to stop the ethnic violence that has gripped Sudan and is now spilling across its borders, the international community would have to muster a force that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

That, clearly, is not in the cards. And any such intervention against the wishes of a hostile regime in Khartoum would need the participation of the world’s remaining superpower: the United States. But given the quagmire in Iraq, and the fact that U.S. forces make up 90 per cent of the coalition contingent there, Washington has little if any inclination for other large-scale military excursions. “There is no stomach for an intervention without Sudanese agreement,” says Morton Abramowitz, a former U.S. diplomat and past president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The United States and the U.K. have been sidelined because the Iraq war has neutered us—we don’t have the will, we don’t have the concentration or the determination to intervene.” The other Western powers are no different, says Abramowitz, now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation in Washington, a non-profit public policy research institution. “The Europeans are like the Americans. They wring their hands and would like to do something, but aren’t prepared to do the hard things that are required.”

It’s a sad reality that others have noted, sometimes in more scathing language. In May, Samantha Power, the Anna Lindh professor




of practice of global leadership and public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote in The New Republic about a large anti-genocide rally in Washington’s National Mall that attracted tens of thousands of people. “Sudanese refugees could not believe their eyes,” she said, “as they saw a sea of all races, religions, and eth-

nic origins wearing T-shirts that read, instead of mourning a genocide, stop one.” But her prognosis for action by the U.S. government— and other Western nations—was bleak. “Sadly— with U.S. military assets stretched to their breaking point, U.S. political capital dwindling, and U.S. capacity for moral leadership at its lowest point in history—the United States cannot stop this genocide without the help of others. And the countries that have the troops, political pull and legitimacy to enter Darfur to halt the violence seem largely indifferent. They are under scant domestic pressure, and they are suspicious of Bush’s motives for speaking out. Even if the administration responds to the noise it has heard, should the rest of the world remain out of touch, the people of Darfur will remain out of luck.” Complicating matters is the fact that Sudan has some powerful friends. Russia has a mil-

itary-technical co-operation treaty with Khartoum that dates back to 2002, and has sold the regime MiG-29 jet fighters. Still, even Moscow appeared ready to sign on to a 2004 UN Security Council move to impose sanctions on Sudan. It was the Chinese who scuttled that resolution—and small wonder. China is the largest supplier of arms to the government in Khartoum. More than that, the oilhungry regime in Beijing gets at least five per cent—and counting—of its imported oil from Sudan, which for Sudan translates into just over 50 per cent of its total oil exports. Thanks largely to Sudan’s oil wells, China has invested an estimated US$10 billion in the country since the 1990s. Beijing even has a force of between 5,000 and 10,000 workers in Sudan. And, as New York-based global political risk advisory and consulting firm the Eurasia Group ominously warns, some of


them are “decommissioned People’s Liberation Army soldiers charged with protecting China’s investments.”

MEANWHILE, the slaughter continues, and the consequences of not taking action against Sudan have resulted in the atrocities committed in Darfur now being mirrored across

the border in Chad. Victims of janjaweed attacks in the neighbouring country thus far number in the hundreds. But the death toll has the potential of becoming much worse. “It has been clear for the last two years that the final act of this war will be fought in Chad,” says Alex de Waal, a fellow at the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University and co-author of Darfur: A Short History of a Long War. “It is actually remarkable—not that war broke out in Chad, but that it took so long to break out.”

The prevailing ethnic dynamic in eastern Chad—Arab nomads and non-Arab farmers— is an almost perfect reflection of demographics in Darfur. And the stories told by internally displaced people in Chad are also almost identical to those told by refugees from Darfur: Arabs on horseback and on camels ride into targeted villages, looting cattle, burning houses and driving away anyone they haven’t shot or otherwise murdered. Sudanese planes have reportedly flown across the border into Chad to assist in these attacks.

Survivors often report that they recognize their attackers as members of local Arab tribes. Other times their attackers are unknown and have almost certainly crossed the largely meaningless border from Darfur. “The problem comes from Sudan,” says Mohamed Rakit, 67, imam of Bakinya village, which has suffered numerous raids. “The Arabs have finished in Darfur, and now they are starting here. Sudanese Arabs crossed the border, and then local Arabs guided them in their attacks.”

Rakit says that local men from Bakinya armed themselves with spears and bows and arrows and formed ad hoc militias to track and recover their cattle. Twice they followed their livestock across the border into Sudan. Another man, Abdullah Abdul Karim, speaks up to say that their village once had good relations with local Arabs. “We married women from their tribes, and they married from us. Then Arabs from Sudan came and convinced the Arabs from Chad to kill the blacks.”

Several weeks ago, the villages on either side of Bakinya were attacked and burned. Scores were murdered. Bakinya residents knew their days were numbered and decided to flee. Imam Rakit stayed behind with some furniture and valuables to wait for other members of his village to return with pack animals. While they were gone, the janjaweed came. Imam Rakit climbed a tree and watched as horsemen swept into the village, sprayed bullets into the thatch-roofed homes and then set them alight. Rakit thought the village was empty, but one woman, Toma Abdel Karim, was too

old and frail to run. She stayed behind, and was burned alive in her home.

Imam Rakit relates all this sitting beneath the shade of a thorn tree on the dusty road leading from Goz Beida, writing verses from the Koran onto wooden tablets. When he finishes composing the holy words, the ink will be washed off and given to the sick and injured to drink. Other members of his village sit scattered beneath nearby trees. Because they are Chadians, not refugees from Sudan, international aid organizations can do little for them. They have no tents, and small amounts of water and food.

Hanging from tree branches are numerous quivers of poison-tipped arrows and primitive bows. Young boys riding donkeys on the outskirts of settlements carry bows as well, just in case. “If we had guns, we would never be living like this. We would go back and fight them,” said Abdullah Abdul Karim, 36. Adds Imam Rakit: “They have machine guns. We have bows and arrows. What can we do?”

The mass murder and ethnic cleansing in eastern Chad have been described as “intercommunal violence,” as if a nasty tribal dispute has gotten out of hand. But the violence is overwhelmingly one-sided. Arab villages are untouched—although some black tribes appear to have joined the Arab janjaweed.

Abdullah Idriss, for example, was blinded by six men, of whom two were black.

“It appears that Arabs have struck up deals —either willingly or by coercion—with certain black groups to facilitate or coordinate against other black groups,” says Matthew Conway, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Chad. Ismail Ibit, a Dajo man from the village of Labotega, confirms that before his village was attacked, local Arabs visited twice and issued an ultimatum: join us or we will destroy you. The villagers refused—and Labotega was burned to the ground. One man was killed.

Maclean’s accompanied Ibit and other villagers back to the still-smouldering ruins of Labotega. The villagers sifted through the ashes, bullet casings and smashed clay vessels, looking for belongings they had hidden before fleeing. The raiders had even destroyed metal boxes of chalk and school supplies. Urns full of grain were broken open and the contents burned. “There is nothing I can say. I’m so sad,” said Togolo Dabai, standing in front of a chest-high circle of mud bricks that had once been his home. The roof was a pile of ash on the ground. “I wanted to see my house again. Maybe there is something here for me.” He looked for a sewing machine one of his wives had hidden, but found nothing.

Nearby, Matar Mohamed was more fortunate. He dug through sandy soil and ash until he found the valuables his mother had concealed there. They consisted of two pots stacked inside each other, and inside the smaller pot, carefully wrapped in clear plastic, three bars of soap. “I’m very happy,” he said. “I have found something for my mother.”

THE ROOTS of the misery in Darfur—and now in Chad—are long and twisted, but many lead to the unlikely source of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the megalomaniacal dictator of Libya.

In the 1960s and ’70s, a racist ideology of Arab supremacism took hold in North Africa, and Gadhafi became its most ardent proponent. He dreamed of an “Arab belt” that would stretch across the Sahel, that broad arid strip that spans Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Chad would be annexed to Libya, Gadhafi believed, and eventually a Sahelian empire would be established across the continent.

Gadhafi never achieved his grandiose ambitions, but he tried. He founded an “Islamic Legion” and set up training camps in the Libyan desert that attracted Arabs from one end of Africa to the other. He provided weapons and money to various Arab and Islamist movements, including in Sudan, and he announced the “unity” of Libya and Chad, which ended

poorly for Gadhafi with his military forces defeated and Chad still sovereign.

Nevertheless, the seeds planted by Gadhafi found fertile ground and eventually sprung forth in the form of a secret organization calling itself the Tajamu al Arabi, or the Arab Gathering, which advocates Arab supremacism and Islamic extremism. Documents have shown the group’s links to “intelligence and security leaders” from other Arab countries, and its camps have hosted military trainers from Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Arab Gathering emerged in Darfur in the early 1980s, distributing propaganda that claimed the “slaves” had ruled Darfur long enough. Violent attacks on non-Arabs soon followed. Divisions between blacks and Arabs in Darfur had always existed, but so did intermarriage and other harmonious interactions. Even the distinctions between “black” and “Arab” were not always clear, and sometimes had more to do with a tribe’s culture and lifestyle than the appearance of its members. But the crude racism of Arab supremacism tore Darfur’s inter-ethnic society apart.

Another root cause of the violence between blacks and Arabs in Darfur, and indeed across much of the Sahel, is the relentless expansion of the Sahara Desert, which has forced Arab nomads to drive their herds of camels and cattle farther south, where they compete for arable land with mosdy non-Arab settled farmers. In the past, such disputes might have resulted in a few deaths, but the introduction of automatic weapons has made these feuds far bloodier.

Finally, although almost everyone in Darfur is Muslim, religious bigotry has also played its role. The Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the Arabic language and, for Arab supremacists stalking Darfur, this is proof enough of their religious as well as


racial superiority.

Nowhere is the moral decay of these men more evident than in the family of Sheik Hilal Mohamed Abdalla. The patriarch, who died in 1990, was by most accounts a just leader. He guided his people through a time of good relations with neighbouring black tribes, and in his twilight years enjoyed reminiscing about his youth hunting lions with the British adventurer and colonial officer Wilfrid Thesiger. Sheik Hilal’s son, Musa Hilal, has inherited his father’s tradition of personal leadership, but little else. As head ofboth the Arab Gathering and the janjaweed, Hilal the younger is a racist thug and a genocidaire. He describes his campaign of murder, arson and rape against his fellow Muslims as “jihad.”

The government of Sudan first began arming Arab militias in Darfur during the late 1990s. But it was not until 2003, when various non-Arab tribes had joined together in a united rebel movement and began to inflict defeats on government forces, that Sudan unleashed the janjaweed in force against the black civilian population of Darfur.

The excuse for targeting non-combatants might have been their alleged support for the rebels, but the janjaweed’s ultimate goal was defined, explicitly and succinctly, in an August 2004 directive from Musa Hilal’s headquarters: “Change the demography of

Darfur and empty it of African tribes.”

Two years later, Hilal and his janjaweed hordes have all but achieved their goal. Darfur has been largely emptied of “African” tribes. Those who have not been murdered are living in camps in Sudan or Chad.

The only force willing to seriously confront the janjaweed are members of Darfur’s rebel groups, the largest of whom are the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, which are now co-operating— along with other, smaller groups—under the banner of the National Redemption Front. Another faction of the SLA split from the rebels this spring and allied itself with the Sudanese government, following the signing of a peace agreement in Abuja that didn’t bring any peace.

The Darfur rebels have inflicted significant defeats on the government of Sudan, but they are facing a regional power armed with attack helicopters and all the weapons its vast reserves of oil can buy.

Maclean’s met with these rebels in compounds in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, and in safe houses a few hundred metres from the border with Sudan, where fighters recovered from bullet wounds and severed limbs suffered during fighting in Darfur. The Chadian government provides safe haven for these men, although the fighters themselves say they receive no direct support. They told Maclean’s that they took up arms after their villages were attacked by janjaweed or by Sudanese government soldiers. “We are fighting for our land and a home for our people,” said Ibrahim Ramadan Aryup, an injured fighter. “This is why we can face opponents regardless of how powerful their weapons are.”

Most are contemptuous of the African Union, whose intervention in Darfur was promoted as a potential solution to the crisis. The AU soldiers are grossly underfunded and under-equipped, but the rebels claim that the AU also suffers from a lack of will to seriously confront the janjaweed. “We have no faith in the African Union. They can’t fix this,” said Mohamed Yaya Abdullah, an SLA fighter. Added Anur Mohamed, another SLA member: “The lead is supposed to come from the United Nations, not the African Union. The African Union has had a long time here, and they haven’t solved anything.”

Adam Ali Shogar, a spokesman and senior commander in the SLA, said that the rebel movement is growing all the time, and he added that the SLA is trying to recruit Arabs as well as blacks in preparation for a more

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united Darfur. But fighting continues, and hundreds of refugees have been driven across the border into Chad in recent weeks. The war in Darfur is far from over.

Khartoum’s ambitions do not end in Darfur, or even Chad. Rebel columns, allegedly sponsored by Sudan and possibly originating there, have also been on the move in the Central African Republic (pop. 4-3 million), which borders both Chad and Sudan. “The Central African Republic is next on the firing line,” de Waal says. “Chad and the Central African Republic will rise and fall together.”

In short, violence that began in Darfur is moving beyond its borders, and no one can be sure when or where it will end. “I think the war will escalate,” de Waal says. “I think it’s an exaggeration to talk about a new genocide in Darfur. I’d be much more worried about Chad.”

THE GOVERNMENT OF SUDAN is capable of learning from recent events, even if we in the West are wilfully blind. It has, after all, pressed ahead with its murderous rampage in Darfur for three years, while the international community clucked, dithered and sat on its hands. All this time, Khartoum negotiated and signed diplomatic agreements that have amounted to nothing on the ground.

The United Nations Security Council, in which so many Darfur refugees still put so much hope, has once again revealed itself to be self-righteous and impotent in equal measure. Any resolution with teeth will be blocked by China, which depends more and more on Sudanese oil. And so the UN engages in endless negotiations about watered-down resolutions. Recent proposals stress that any force sent to Darfur must be predominantly African. Such diplomatic buck-passing is well described by Gérard Prunier, author of Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide, who wrote: “ ‘African solutions to African problems’ has become the politically correct way of saying ‘We do not really care.’ ”

In Canada, opposition parties have demanded that Canada pledge soldiers for a UN mission in Sudan. Keith Martin, the Liberal party’s opposition critic for foreign affairs, calls the Sudanese government “a group of pathological liars and murderers,” and says that the UN should send a peacemaking force into Darfur “whether Khartoum likes it or not.” The NDP is not quite so hawkish. Jack Layton argues that Canadian troops should be made available for a UN mission, but won’t say whether he’d support deploying them to Sudan without the consent of the Sudanese government. The Canadian government, for its part, says it will consider


any request for assistance from the United Nations, but has not yet received any.

According to Alex de Waal, sending troops into Sudan against the wishes of the Sudanese government would be a “disaster.” He estimates that imposing peace in Darfur, without the co-operation of Khartoum, would require up to 200,000 soldiers, more than 10 times

the number allotted by UN Resolution 1706, which Khartoum prompdy rejected.

The bitter truth is that the international community is incapable of mustering the resources and the will to send such a force, and support for even a more modest deployment would fade over the course of a difficult mission that would likely cost many casualties.

But here’s another bitter truth. Our failure to prevent the genocide in Darfur is a moral stain. Sometimes, ending the slaughter of innocents requires enormous sacrifice. Genocide has been underway in Darfur for three years. It appears poised to spread. And we’re still doing nothing to stop it. M

Luiza Ch. Savage

ON THE WEB: For our exclusive photo gallery showing life in Chad’s refugee camps, visit