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Darfur's Displaced People Hope for Return

A sixth round of peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebels from Sudan's western Darfur region are under way in Nigeria. Five previous rounds have made limited progress toward ending the two-and-a-half-year conflict. In the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, displaced from Darfur are hopeful of a solution that will allow them to return home.

In Khartoum, Darfuris displaced by the fighting say they hope the talks in Nigeria will be successful. But many doubt that the fragmented rebel movement will unite to make the talks a success. And all are haunted by memories of the violence that drove them from their homes.

Ali Mohammed lived in a western village, called Zalingi, when pro-government Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, began a scorched earth campaign to put down the rebellion.

"When the Janaweed come to my village, I been there, and they attack our people," he said. "Janjaweed come to the small school and attack more people, more students in the school. And they are firing [on] all the buildings of the school. Some other old women, my mother's mother is Halima, I see that killed in the market. I saw my grandmother killed in the market in front of my eye. The Janjaweed when they come to the market, they shoot her by the guns."

Roughly two million people have been displaced and an estimated 180,000 more have died during the conflict, which pits rebels of African descent against pro-government Arab militiamen.

The conflict in Darfur has had a devastating effect on women. Human rights reports say rape has been used by the Janjaweed as a tool to humiliate and silence Darfuri women.

Izzedin Abdullah says it is a constant threat.

"My sister-in-law, her daughter was raped when she was going to collect firewood," he recalled. "She is seventeen years old. Seventeen years old. They [women] cannot go to collect firewood. They cannot leave the camp. They will be raped. This is for women. And the men will be killed by the Janjaweed."

The violence in Darfur has had a profound psychological impact on survivors. A recent United Nations report says Darfuris are likely to suffer from nightmares and suicidal thoughts. Mohammed Adam says he feels the impact of the violence constantly.

"Instead of this surviving, it's better to be dead. Most of our people, they already pass away, they already died. Because of just being survivor, I am not feel[ing] that I am really living life. This is what I feel exactly. Physically, maybe so, but inside I have some mental [effects] because of these problems," he explained.

Reports this week of continued infighting within the main Darfuri rebel faction, the Sudan Liberation Movement, have cast doubt on the possibility of successful negotiations in Nigeria. The factionalization does not surprise Darfuris who remain skeptical that the talks will succeed.

Mohammed Al Hajj left the western city of Geneina two years ago. He says he doubts the latest round of talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, will bring peace.

"We have multi movements there in Darfur, and I want all the movements to make an agreement between them. And to make the peace in Darfur. There are too many groups. Some of them, they went to Abuja, some of them they did not go to Abuja. Because of that, I think it's not going to succeed," he said.

Darfuris here are unsure of the outcome of the Abuja talks. They are equally unsure of what they will find when they finally are able to return to Darfur. Izzedin Abdullah says he simply wants to see his mother, who he says has lived for two years in the open, after her home was burned. Like most, he is thankful that he escaped Darfur, and like most, he waits anxiously for word of when he can return.