Children of Darfur reveal their pain with pictures of rape and murder

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The Independent Online

The images are of murder and rape, burning villages, helicopter gunships and terrified, fleeing refugees. They have been drawn by children, some as young as eight, who are victims of a wave of bloody ethnic cleansing in Darfur.

Two years after the international outcry over the man-made catastrophe in Sudan, the Janjaweed militia have returned with a vengeance, bringing death and destruction, backed by forces of the Khartoum government.

The massacres and starvation of 2004 in Darfur prompted the dispatch of an African Union monitoring force and righteous indignation from the United Nations. Now, 10 UN resolutions later, the UN is at last considering sending its own peacekeepers.

The Sudanese government and the rebels - the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - blame each other for breaching a ceasefire pact. The resulting violence has led to the number of refugees in Darfur rising to 1.8 million, with 200,000 more in neighbouring Chad.

The pattern is the same as before: clashes between government forces and rebels, followed by raids by the Janjaweed - ethnic Arabs on camels and horses - on African villages leading to another round of killings and refugees.

The children's drawings of the terrible events were collected in refugee camps in Darfur and Chad by Annie Sparrow, a gynaecologist who has been working among victims of sexual violence, a recurrent theme accompanying the murders and mutilations.

Dr Sparrow is compiling a book, World's Smallest Witnesses, with Brian Steidle, a former US Marines officer who worked as an international observer with the African Union force before leaving in protest at what he considers its failure to protect the population.

As well as images of violence, some drawings feature a wistful hope of a better life. One is of a boy with books flying around his head. It was drawn by his eight-year-old sister who wanted to portray his dreams of escaping the mayhem and getting an education. Dr Sparrow said: "What they drew were unprompted by adults and the themes are the same, and they're pretty harrowing. These children were showing what happened to their families: their fathers and brothers being killed; their mothers and sisters being taken away to be raped."

The Aegis Trust, which has campaigned against the terror in Darfur, said: "The West must realise that the killings and the destruction have not stopped. We must not let this continue without doing anything about it, otherwise we'll be condoning the inflicting of terrible suffering."