Darfur: Genocide without borders

As anarchy spreads, rampaging militias bring death and carnage to refugees in neighbouring Chad. An exclusive dispatch by Peter Boehm
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The Independent Online

The village is still smouldering. A girl combs through the remains of a burnt-down hut with her bare hands, trying to salvage knife blades and rakes that were not consumed by the fire. Two women, with tears in their eyes, have broken down in front of a pile of ash, wailing violently.

A band of youths is patrolling the ruins near Koukou-Angarana, bows and arrows slung over their shoulders, boomerangs and knives at the ready. But their decision to form a self-defence group has come too late. The Arab horsemen who swept through the village on their bloody rampage have long since vanished.

It is a tragically familiar scene in Darfur, the province of western Sudan where more than 200,000 people have been killed and at least two million brutally forced from their homes - a genocide unleashed and sustained by the Islamist government in Khartoum - but this man-made inferno now sweeping across the plains is taking place across the Sudanese border in Chad. The pattern is identical to events in Darfur, where the well-armed Arab raiders allied to the Sudanese government set villages ablaze, rape the women, and leave a trail of dead black Africans in their wake. Just as in Darfur, the Sudanese government is being accused of being behind the violence in Chad, an accusation which is rejected by Khartoum.

Mahamat Abdurasset surveys the steaming rubble of Aradipe, a remote Chadian village close to the Sudanese border. His village was attacked by a force of 500 Arab militiamen. "We knew most of them. They are from this village," said Mr Abdurasset, the leader of the self-defence group, pointing to a cluster of huts right next to Aradipe.

About 90,000 Chadians have fled their villages to find shelter in nearby towns, with many of them arriving in camps already crowded with 232,000 refugees who fled the violence in Darfur.

The wave of ethnic cleansing began in eastern Chad at the end of last month. But the most recent attacks around the small town of Koukou-Angarana have raised the stakes. For the first time, the Arab militia have targeted camps for refugees and internally displaced people. And for the first time the Chadian army, which until last week was engaged in a campaign against several rebel groups in the Abeche region, 250 miles north of here, took on the militia.

In the latest violence yesterday, the houses of local aid workers living in Koukou-Angarana were burnt down.

Over the weekend, several villages around Koukou-Angarana, and the outskirts of the town, were raided. The Chadian Communications Minister, Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor, said 40 people were killed in the raids on the settlements of Aradipe and Habile. He said eight Chadian soldiers had their eyes gouged out and one civilian was burnt to death. The claims of mutilations could not be independently verified. The United Nations refugee agency said that during heavy fighting around Habile, 22 villagers and internally displaced Chadians were killed, and 93 homes were burnt.

According to Mr Abdurasset, whose village is four miles east of Koukou-Angarana, two columns of Arabs made their first attack on Aradipe on Friday morning. "They were armed with automatic rifles and bazookas and rode on horses and camels," he said. "Some of them were in Sudanese uniforms. They shot at everything that moved, and then drove our cattle away."

On Friday evening, he said, the Arabs evacuated their women and children and packed up their belongings from the neighbouring village, which, a day later, stood untouched and eerily quiet. The next morning, the Arabs attacked Aradipe again and burnt it down.

Most of the villagers had fled on Friday to the Goz Amer refugee camp, which already houses more than 18,000 Darfur refugees. The camp was attacked and partially burnt. Eight Sudanese were killed, said Chadian officials.

"We had very good relations with the Arabs in the nearby village. There were even a few inter-marriages," Mr Abdurasset said, as other young men nodded in agreement. "The trouble started at the end of November, when the Arabs prevented us from going to our fields and threatened attacks on our village."

As he spoke, thick white plumes of smoke were billowing on the horizon. Mr Abdurasset said the smoke was rising from the next village, five miles away. "We have reports that is being attacked right now," he said.

Koukou-Angarana has taken in 8,000 displaced Chadians in recent weeks. At army headquarters in the town, Bourdami Abdurahman, the mayor, echoed his government's accusation that the Sudanese government wants to annex eastern Chad. "The Sudanese government has forged a coalition of 21 Chadian ethnic groups who consider themselves Arabs. Khartoum wants to transform Chad into a fundamentalist Islamic country," he said.

The Communications Minister, said yesterday that the Chadian army took four prisoners, while the mayor said that soldiers had captured new weapons from the militia. They say this bolsters their claim that the Sudanese government is arming the Janjaweed militia and the Chadian rebels, who are fighting to end the 16-year rule of President Idriss Déby. Chadian officials, however, have produced no proof of their claims. So the Arab militia remain strangely faceless, since the attackers carry their injured from the battlefield and retrieve their dead in the night.

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