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International Aid Sought for Darfur to Avoid Massive Catastrophe - 2004-07-05


An international campaign is underway in Sudan to solve a humanitarian crisis unfolding in the western region, Darfur, following months of armed attacks by Arab militia against blacks African villagers.

What formerly was the village of Djanga sits in an isolated area, a few miles from the border of Sudan and Chad. For generations the village was the home of subsistence farmers from the Zagawa ethnic group.

One night in February, a group of horse and camel-riders attacked the village. They set houses on fire, chased and shot men who were trying to escape. Several women were raped and beaten. Those who survived say the attackers were the Arab militia known as "Janjaweed."

Twenty-nine-year-old Azza Jumah Tegel was one of the women who left for the Chadian border. Her group walked for 15 days and spent one month in the open, just inside the border, before being settled at the Iridimi refugee camp, 110 kilometers west of the border, where 15,000 Sudanese refugees are sheltered.

She said the Arab Janjaweed sent by Al-Bashir [the Sudanese president] attacked her village, killed, raped and stole property. She says two of her children got separated from her in the confusion. To this day, she does not know where they are or if they are still alive.

There are hundreds of thousands of such stories inside the refugee camps in Chad and the temporary shelters of the internally-displaced people in the vast Darfur region of the Sudan.

They are stories of pain and frustration, helplessness and anger and of the yearning for life the way it used to be as can be heard from 40-year-old Mahmoud Dafala, another Iridimi refugee, who escaped from the village, Kanoi.

"Now, we need to return to our country immediately," he said. "Sudan's Omar El-Bashir is very unkind to us because there is a lot of army [people] and Janjaweed and they robbed us of all our fortunes: camels and everything in our homes. They attacked us by planes, and bombed us and people are separated from their children."

Back inside the Darfur region, hundreds of thousands of people who were forced to flee their homes now live in temporary shelters. The camps are overcrowded and lack basic necessary services, such as adequate food and medical care.

During last week's visit at the Zam Zam camp, near El-Fashir, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan heard harrowing personal accounts of women whose families had been torn apart and forced to flee their homes, following attacks against their villages.

Mr. Annan sat down on a mat and attentively listened as the women recounted what had turned them into displaced people in their own country. They told stories of rape, abuse and killings, allegedly perpetrated by the "Janjaweed."

"The stories the refugees are telling and the internally displaced people are telling are the same. They were attacked," said Mr. Annan. "They have had aggression, there were serious violations of human rights, gross and systematic ones, and they had to flee for their lives and that they would only return home if there is security. The government of Sudan has given and engagement that it's going to disarm the Janjaweed and to contain them and provide security for the population."

At one camp, Meshtel, on the outskirts of El-Fashir, U.N. officials were clearly puzzled and alarmed by the disappearance of some 4,000 people who were there the previous night. Government officials claimed that they have been moved into another camp. U.N. officials did not appear to be convinced.

In the past week, the government of Sudan has come under intense international pressure to stop the government-supported militia aggression against black African villagers in the Darfur region.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Mr. Annan visited the country, last week, and held talks with senior government officials including President Al-Bashir. Late last week, the Sudanese government pledged to bring law and order to Darfur and implement a moratorium on restrictions for all humanitarian work in Darfur.

International aid agencies say assistance reaching western Sudan has doubled in the past five weeks. However, they say they need to triple the current level of humanitarian aid to avoid massive catastrophe.

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