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For Dinkas, Sudan's Two Conflicts Run Together

Tens of thousands of ethnic Dinkas fled to Sudan's western Darfur region to escape the brutal, long-running war in the south, now these same refugees are increasingly being caught up in Darfur's crisis. It is an example of how the two conflicts are beginning to merge.

When about 300 policemen with rifles and wooden poles raided this refugee camp on the outskirts of Nyala, in South Darfur state, they had not expected the dogged resistance of the more than 7000 Dinkas who had taken refuge there. It was to be another forcible relocation of a camp that Sudanese authorities say had become too crowded.

As police fired over their heads the Dinkas, many of them seasoned by two decades of conflict in southern Sudan, gathered around their area of the camp and began locking arms to form human chain that remained unbroken as police beat them with poles.

The police commanders, quickly changing their tactic from intimidation to negotiation, summoned the Dinka's four sultans and 10 sheikhs hoping to convince them to leave. The Dinkas refused, saying they needed to live near Nyala to find jobs because many of them, being new to the camp, are not registered for food aid.

The police threatened to return in a few days to evict them from the camp. That was two-weeks ago, and they have yet to return.

Michael Garang is a 42-year-old Dinka sultan living at the Otash camp. He says his people are all too familiar with attacks like this.

First, it was the government-backed Arab militias (or Muraheleen) who destroyed his village in Bahr al-Ghazal in southern Sudan. Then another Arab militia, the janjaweed, backed by the same government, who attacked his village of Bulbul in southern Darfur three-months ago. Now, it was Sudan's Arab-dominated police force.

Translator: "He said they did not become frightened because they heard the voice of guns when they were in the south of Sudan. And again when the tribal conflict began in Bulbul, they also heard the voice of guns. So when the policemen came here and shot the bullets over the tents and over the camp, many of them did not become afraid because the sound of guns became normal for them."

Dinkas and other tribes from southern Sudan who fled to this region years ago to escape the violence in the country's south now find themselves caught up in the cycle of violence raging in Darfur. They, too, are being targeted by janjaweed militias intent on driving Sudan's black African populations out of Darfur.

Garang Deng, a Dinka, fled the terror in southern Sudan 15-years ago with his wife and six children.

Like Mr. Garang, Mr. Deng and his family settled in Bulbul after he found work on the farms of the Arabs and the Fur, the region's largest tribe. He says when the Arab janjaweed militias raided the village, attacking the Fur and the Dinkas, the Arabs in the village whom he came to know as neighbors did nothing to defend them.

The incident, Mr. Deng says, deepened the bond between the Dinkas and the victims of Darfur's violence. Both have been driven from their ancestral homelands by proxy militias for Sudan's government.

Translator: "He says that he came from southern Sudan because of war. When he came to South Darfur, he stayed for seven years, security was good and it was very safe. But unfortunately before three months, when the janjaweed began to attack the village and tried to kill the people who did not belong to their race, he felt very sad, very sorrowful for the same picture that repeats itself now here in Darfur."

Sudan's two conflicts, the one in the south and the one in the west, are beginning to merge on the ground, but at the negotiating table the two conflicts are separate.

The Khartoum government and southern Sudan's largest rebel group, the Sudanese People's Liberation Army rejected several attempts to expand their peace talks to include Darfur.

Their rationale was that a north-south peace deal would provide a blueprint for solving the crisis in Darfur. As U.S. Envoy to Sudan Charles Snyder put it: "The road to peace in Darfur is through the north-south peace agreement."

The next round of north-south peace talks is to begin this week in Naivasha, Kenya with the United Nations pushing for a final deal by the end of the year. Peace talks between the Khartoum government and two rebel groups in Darfur are to continue next week in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.