ERIC REEVES: Dangers to Darfuris Attempting to Return to Their Villages and Lands Increase with Collapse of UNAMID


The UN, the African Union, the “Troika” (Norway, the UK, and the U.S.), and the rest of the international community continue to pretend that peace can come to Darfur in the absence of safe returns by displaced persons and refugees, as well as the restoration of agricultural lands violently expropriated from non-Arab/African farmers—and now occupied by armed Arab groups or militiamen. Darfuris themselves have long been fully explicit about why they cannot leave the camps and return to their lands and villages:


Darfur displaced: ‘We cannot return as long as our land is occupied’ | Radio Dabanga, April 9, 2018 | KALMA CAMP


Last week, the residents of Kalma camp in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, briefed a US government delegation about the situation of the displaced in the region and the reasons why they still cannot return to their areas of origin. “The American delegation met with the camp administration in the presence of the deputy director of UNAMID in South Darfur,” Yagoub Abdallah, the general coordinator of the Darfur Displaced and Refugees Association told Radio Dabanga.


“The US representatives inquired about the voluntary repatriation programme, whether people had returned already, and as well about the reasons preventing the displaced from returning to their villages,” he reported.


The displaced told the delegation that only a small number of people returned to their areas last year and early this year. “But they soon returned to the camp because of the aggression they met from militiamen and new settlers.” “We explained the American visitors that apart from the insecurity still caused by the many militiamen in the region, the presence of new, armed settlers is preventing the displaced to return to their villages.


“The new settlers, consisting of Arab herders from Darfur or migrants from Chad or Niger, are occupying our lands with the support of the authorities,” the camp leader said. “These settlers assault anyone who tries to return to their village.


The displaced further told the American delegation that the government is still continuing its war against the Darfuris. “Government militiamen are now burning villages in Jebel Marra.” The camp leaders handed the US representatives a memorandum in which they had listed their concerns. They called on the USA and the international community to provide protection to the displaced people in Darfur, to pressure the Sudanese government to stop distributing land to investors and new settlers, and to press for the arrest of all of those indicted by the International Criminal Court.


Returns in Darfur are rare because they are extraordinarily dangerous, which is why displaced persons represent almost half the population of the region: 2.7 internally displaced persons (overwhelmingly non-Arab/African) and more than 300,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad (again, overwhelmingly non-Arab/African). These figures have not changed significantly in recent years because insecurity is intolerable, and returns—even to work lands near to IDP camps—have typically been met with violence, often brutal in nature, as today’s dispatch from Radio Dabanga makes all too clear:


• Nine Darfur returnees killed this agricultural season | Radio Dabanga, June 27, 2018 | GIREIDA South Darfur / SARAF OMRA (North Darfur)


At least nine people have been killed since the start of the current agricultural season in Gireida in South Darfur, all of whom have been voluntary returnees to their villages this rainy season. According to activists and displaced sheikhs in Gireida locality who spoke to Radio Dabanga on Tuesday, the last agricultural season witnessed the killing of at least 59 people by militiamen in the locality’s farms.


One of the leaders of displaced people told Radio Dabanga from Gireida “lack of security today represents the biggest challenge for the return of displaced people to their villages and the success of the current agricultural season.” He stressed that security is completely non-existent despite the government repeated announcements in the media that the villages are safe and urging the displaced people to return despite the lack of services of education, health and drinking water in the villages. He pointed to the spread of militiamen whom the government has not yet disarmed, wearing military uniform and assaulting anyone who returns to village or goes to farming with murder, rape and theft of property. He said that even if all these incidents are reported to the police, it does not move to arrest the perpetrators.


Agricultural season undermined


Activists of Kutum in North Darfur told Radio Dabanga that the lack of security has undermined the current agricultural season and caused complete failure of voluntary repatriation programme. The activists pointed in this regard to the attacks on the owners of orchards who returned to their areas in Kutum last week. They said that the attacks, which included the removal of fruit trees from the orchards, were carried out by government militiamen known to the locality authorities, some of them new settlers and others stationed in some of the nearby settlements.


They pointed out that these militiamen have become a real threat to the agricultural season, especially as it is their custom to attack all those who go out to cultivate their land and get their livestock by force of arms on the farms, which led to farmers’ reluctance to cultivate their land.


Saraf Omra


Sheikh Hasan Hamid (75), and two of his sons and a daughter were also seriously wounded by gunfire by the militiamen in their farm at Burum Burum, south of Saraf Omra in North Darfur (see picture). Farmers in Saraf Omra told Radio Dabanga that the sheikh, his sons Mousa and Mustafa and daughter Zubeida were voluntary returnees to their areas who happened to be at the time of the incident tilling their farm at Burum Burum. A witness farmer said that a group of militants opened fire on them causing them injuries, some of them were transferred to the hospital of Saraf Omra and others to the Zalingei Teaching Hospital. The farmer described the incident as a flagrant violation and a blatant challenge to the government’s decisions issued by President Omar Al Bashir, and Second Vice-President Hasabo Abdelrahman and the leader of the Rapid Support Forces militia to collect weapons, impose prestige of the state and return of the displaced people to their land.


The feckless, impotent UN/African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) refuses to acknowledge this violence and claims, preposterously, that violence in Darfur is now only “sporadic” and confined to Jebel Marra. This is a desperate effort to make something of a success of UNAMID, even as its ten-year deployment has been a fantastically expensive series of failures on all fronts. The effort gains considerable urgency given the impending further eviscerating cuts to UNAMID—including the abandonment of Gireida (South Darfur), which has been the site so much violence (and is far from Jebel Marra). The UN Security Council cut UNAMID’s military personnel by 44 percent last year, its police forces by 30 percent—and additional very large cuts will come on top of these, obliging virtually all of Darfur to be abandoned to the control of the genocidal Khartoum regime and its militia henchmen.


The failure and expense of UNAMID, despite its modest deterrent effect in a few locations, has prompted the decisions by the Security Council, and today a terse dispatch from Al Jazeera gives the blunt view of most members:


• UN to vote on curbing peacekeeping troops in Sudan's Darfur



Thousands of UNAMID ‘Blue Helmets’ may be asked to leave due to budget cuts, whether or not the conflict in the region has been resolved.


The UN Security Council said the 11-year UNAMID joint mission with the African Union is too broad and too expensive. The conflict that brought in the peacekeepers in 2007 killed 300,000 people and displaced nearly 2.5 million—and some entire communities still live in refugee camps.


[“Broad” seems a particularly poor word choice, given the extreme narrowness with which UNAMID seems, by its inaction, to construe its mandate—ER]

[In fact, UN figures make clear that the number of displaced (internally and as refugees) remains much closer to 3 million than 2.5 million, and mortality form the violent effects of conflict exceeds 500,000 civilians (the UN figure of April 2008—more than ten years out of date—is still cited by virtually all news organizations in the absence of a further UN estimate; extant data in aggregate strongly suggest that the real figure is well over 500,000 | ]


No matter: as Sudan Tribune reports, Darfur is to be abandoned by UNAMID except in Jebel Marra, with completely untenable “peace-building and development” to be cynically offered to those elsewhere:


UN Peacekeeping Chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Monday proposed to close all the UNMAID sites in Darfur region expect the greater Jebel Marra area and to increase peace-building and development. (UN, AU propose closure of UNAMID sites in Darfur except for Jebel Marra | Sudan Tribune, June 11, 2018 | WASHINGTON)


No explanation is offered as to how “peace-building and development” can occur in a land that remains so violent and insecure, with all outstanding issues on which real peace depends left unresolved. Of one thing we may be sure, the completely bankrupt Khartoum regime—presiding over economic collapse throughout Sudan—will not be offering resources to Darfur, cynically mendacious claims to the contrary.



The withdrawal of UNAMID sets up the most deadly phase of human destruction: when Khartoum—facing no international pressure, confronting only a fully eviscerated UNAMID, and with no human rights reporting presence or international journalists on the ground—goes ahead with its long-planned dismantling of the camps holding some 2.2 million of the total 2.7 million displaced (the other 500,000, according to the UN, have found host families or villages, or are simply gathered in collocations of displaced populations, large and small, without services or humanitarian access; many tens of thousands of civilians have been newly displaced since Khartoum’s savage 2016 campaign in Jebel Marra). The plan to dismantle the camps was most recently (May 16, 2018) reiterated by President al-Bashir. And even in the absence of dismantling, the camps are increasingly becoming targets of Khartoum’s militia forces, particularly the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF):


• Militia attack Central Darfur camp: Three displaced dead, 12 injured | Radio Dabanga, May 24, 2018 | GARSILA


Three displaced people were killed and 12 more injured in two attacks, allegedly by Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militiamen on Aradeiba camp in Garsila in Central Darfur. On Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, three displaced people were killed and 12 others were wounded in two attacks by the militias.


El Shafee Abdallah, the coordinator of Central Darfur camps told Radio Dabanga that a group of RSF stationed at the eastern gate of Garsila launched an attack on Abuja market at the Aradeiba camp and fired live ammunition at the displaced people on Tuesday and Wednesday. He explained that the attack resulted in killing Mousa Daoud (27) Zakariya Yongour (29), and Maryam Abdelrahim (35), and wounded 12 others. He reported that the RSF continued to fire and besiege the camp throughout Wednesday.


• More 3 IDPs killed in Central Darfur: rebels | Sudan Tribune, May 23, 2018 (KHARTOUM)


The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) killed three displaced people in Ardiba camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Garsila area of Central Darfur state, said two armed groups in Jebel Marra on Wednesday.


This attack on IDPs is the second of its kind in the Central Darfur state, after the killing of a displaced woman residing in a camp in Zalingei on Monday. Two rebel groups, Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid (SLM-AW) and SLM-Transitional Council said the government militiamen opened fire on two civilians at Abuja market in Ardiba camp of Garsila, because they tried to prevent them from looting their belongings.


On Wednesday, the assailants backed by the security forces attacked the mourners at the cemetery and killed female and injured several others, the statements said.


• Militia shooting in Central Darfur camp leaves one dead | Radio Dabanga, May 22, 2018 | ZALINGEI, Central Darfur


Sudanese militiamen killed a displaced woman and wounded ten other people near a camp in Zalingei, Central Darfur, on Monday. The coordinator of the Central Darfur camps, El Shafee Abdallah, informed Radio Dabanga about the incident in Khamsa Degaig camp. “A force of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces stormed the camp at 9am. They were driving vehicles with Dushka machine gun mounted on the top.” 


• One displaced woman killed by Sudanese militia in Central Darfur camp | Sudan Tribune, May 21, 2018 (ZALINGEI)


One woman was killed and two others injured by the government militia Rapid Support Forces (RSF) at Khams Dagaig camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Central Darfur State capital, Zalingei on Monday.


Without the tenuous security of the camps, people forced to leave (“return” is merely Khartoum’s euphemism) will have no safety and a severely limited access to humanitarian assistance, which will be affected by the same lack of security and by an inability to reach large dispersed populations.


People who attempt to return to their lands will be violently confronted, as many reports have made clear in recent years. Radio Dabanga has very recently reported:


• Dozens of displaced families forced back to camps in North Darfur | May 30, 2018 | KABKABIYA


On Sunday, approximately 250 displaced families were forced to return once again to camps in Kabkabiya in North Darfur after mediation attempts with new settlers in their home villages failed. Some of the returnees had traveled all the way from refugee camps in eastern Chad and temporarily settled in Kabkabiya in anticipation of the voluntary repatriation project in Sabarna area. Most families have been displaced since the start of the war in Darfur in 2004.


• Militiamen attack group of returnees in Tawila, North Darfur | May 11, 2018 | TABIT


Militiamen beat a number of displaced people west of Tabit in North Darfur and caused them varying injuries on Wednesday. The attackers threatened to kill the victims were they to return to the area. The attack in Dugwa area, Tawila locality, involved about 35 armed men driving vehicles and riding on motorcycles. They attacked 25 displaced people who were collecting straw and firewood at Dugwa. One of the injured told Radio Dabanga that the attackers beat them with sticks. “Mohamed Omar Suleiman and Adam Yahya Haroun were badly wounded and taken to hospital.”


UNAMID has failed terribly in protecting civilians on the ground, and the international community has failed to demand real leadership of the Mission and that the Khartoum regime abide by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed in January 2008 by Khartoum, the UN, and the AU. The “full access” to all of Darfur nominally conferred by the SOFA has never been a reality, and Khartoum has long regularly denied access to UNAMID forces as well as humanitarian operations. The Mission has been badly compromised from the beginning by international willingness to accede to Khartoum’s various crippling demands and denials, and has never been equipped in a remotely adequate fashion.


But it is this feckless, eviscerated, and corrupt Mission that is all the world is willing to offer the people of Darfur, and as noted, that Mission is even now being further gutted by the UN Security Council.


So those attempting to return will continue to face violence: and without camps to which they might return, their fate is ghastly beyond easy reckoning:


• Two farmers wounded in Jebel Marra attack | Radio Dabanga, May 29, 2018 | DUBO EL OMDA


Two women were wounded in an attack by gunmen on their farms in eastern Jebel Marra on Sunday morning. Farmers reported to this radio station that armed men, driving two Land Cruisers with machine guns mounted on the top, along with gunmen on seven motorcycles and about 36 others on camels and horses, opened fire on a group of farmers. The farmers had come from Dubo El Omda, Dubo El Madrasa, and Mashrou Abu Zeid to clean their farms. The attackers beat a number of the farmers and drove them off from the farms. Mariam Ishag Yagoub and Yasmin Haroun were wounded.


• Displaced farmer killed in South Darfur attack | Radio Dabanga, May 28, 2018 | GIREIDA, South Darfur


A resident of the Gireida camp for the displaced was killed and four others were wounded by militiamen in South Darfur on Sunday.


Speaking to Radio Dabanga, a relative of one of the victims reported that about 20 gunmen on horses attacked a group of displaced people from Gireida camp who were working on their farms near Ibdos village, 5 km west of Gireida, on Sunday morning “They opened fire at the farmers. Ibrahim El Nur, aged 50, died instantly,” he said. “Abdelwahid Saboun, his son Saddam, Osman Ahmed, and Ahmediya Suleiman were injured, and were taken to the Hospital of Gireida.”


• Displaced people attacked, killed in South Darfur | Radio Dabanga, May 4, 2018 | GIREIDA / RABKONA / NIERTETI


One man was killed while others were wounded in an attack by gunmen in Gireida locality in South Darfur on Wednesday evening… A farmer was abducted in Central Darfur. Two other people went missing after approximately 20 armed men on camels attacked the group of people in Abujabra, 20 km north of Gireida. The attackers opened fire on the group and immediately killed Mohamed Adam. 


The bullets also injured Abdallah Fadul Mohamed, Ali Hassan, Imam Mohamed Daoud and Ibrahim Adam Eid, all of whom have been taken to the hospital. The children Ahmed Adam Mohamed Musa (13 years) and Mohamed Yagoub went missing following the attack.


The source said that the group consisted of displaced people who attempted to return to the area of Abujabra. Reports continue to reach this station about attacks on returnees in the conflict-plagued western Sudanese region.


• Gunmen shoot, rob voluntary returnees in South Darfur | Radio Dabanga, April 9, 2018 | GIREIDA


A community leader sustained bullet wounds in an attack by gunmen on voluntary returnees in Gireida locality in South Darfur on Saturday. “Five gunmen ambushed a group of displaced from the Gireida camps on Saturday evening,” one of the victims reported to Radio Dabanga. “The people were on their way back to Um Balola village.” “Omda Ahmed Ali who was heading the returnees was hit by bullets. The attackers the seized our money and mobile telephones, and fled,” he said. “The omda is currently being treated in the Nyala Teaching Hospital.”


Head of UN peacekeeping Lacroix, in advocating that UNAMID bases be confined to the Jebel Marra area, is abandoning places such as Gireida, which has seen tremendous violence in recent months. That abandonment if fully emblematic of the international response to ongoing genocide in Darfur.

(c) Eric Reeves

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