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Images of Genocide Haunt Darfur Refugees


Recent arrivals to Darfur's vast camps for displaced people are haunted by memories of the violence that drove them from their villages. For many living at Zam Zam camp outside of El Fasher, Northern Darfur, atrocities committed by Arab militias known as janjaweed will not be soon forgotten, even as they struggle to survive in the camp's harsh conditions.

The nightmare began for recent arrivals to Zam Zam camp when their villages were attacked by the janjaweed in early September.

The Arab militias unleashed by the Sudan government in February 2003 to crush a rebellion in Sudan's western Darfur region have terrorized civilians in a savage campaign of rape and murder, that displaced Darfuris say was meant to wipe them off of the earth forever.

Halima Ahmed is tired of questions. She has one for visitors. How do you run away with five children, she asks? You put one in your left arm and one in your right. You carry one on your back. What do you do with the other two when you have to flee?

Halima is just one of thousands who fled their villages when the janjaweed came.

Women in Zam Zam camp outside of El Fasher say the janjaweed wanted to get rid of them forever.

Amina Haroun remembers what the janjaweed told her. When the janjaweed came to the village they said to us, you are the negros, she says. They told us, we will kill everyone here. We are cleaning the land. We are cleaning the land of Africans. This land belongs to the Arabs, she says they told her.

Long-running tribal clashes between Arab herders and African farmers have exacerbated the conflict, which the United States has called genocide.

The nightmare did not end with murder. The United Nations and other aid agencies have said that the janjaweed commonly use rape as a tool to silence and intimidate Darfuri women.

In this strict Muslim society, rape is a source of shame. A woman who is raped is considered soiled and may be treated as an outcast in her community.

None of the women at Zam Zam camp will admit to having been raped, but each of them say they know a friend, a cousin, a neighbor, who was violated.

Mariam Yasin remembers her flight from the janjaweed.

"When the janjaweed came," she says, "they took some women away and raped them. They did not get me because I ran. On foot. Along the road she says she saw little children, some of them less than three years old. They were running too, and they were alone."

The women at Zam Zam are confused and frightened. The young men take on a different attitude.

Mohamed and Ahmed are in their late teens. They know exactly what they want to do to the janjaweed. They want to fight them. Mohamed says he will fight with a gun - as soon as he can get one. Ahmed insists he needs only sticks.

The bitterness has made Darfur's peace process extremely difficult. A sixth round of peace talks between the government of Sudan and Darfuri rebels ended in late October without a firm agreement and Darfur's largest rebel movement may be on the brink of splitting into two.

The arrivals at Zam Zam say they are glad to be alive, but the life at the camp is immensely hard.

Ali Mohamed Fadul is the tribal sheikh or leader of the new arrivals. He says more than 18,000 people from his area are at the camp.

"They have treated us nicely at the camp," he says. "But they haven't given us food for so long. When we came they gave us some sorghum but that was long ago. Since then, he says, we have had no food. Some of the people are giving up and going back to their villages. But it is not safe."

Camp officials were not available for comment. Mr. Ali says he does not blame them. He says he knows there are simply too many people.

U.N. representatives say the issue is complicated. An upsurge in violence in the region has led to many more new arrivals at the camps than were expected.

Many other camp residents complained of hunger and illness.

Fatna Adam says she thinks she is about 60 years old. Her hips, back, stomach, and legs hurt. For the elderly at Zam Zam the normal pains of aging are exacerbated by lack of food and by emotional trauma.

Residents of Zam Zam do not think about the future much. They live from day to day, wondering when food will arrive. Many of them are fixed firmly on memories of violence, memories that will likely remain with them forever.

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