Refugees too scared to go home despite Darfur deal peace

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The Independent Online

It is going to take more than a couple of signatures on a piece of paper to persuade Kaltam Ali to go back to her home in Darfur.

Janjaweed militia torched her village in Sudan two years ago, forcing her to flee to Chad. She sought refuge in a village near the frontier. But last month, the "devils on horseback" staged a cross-border raid. They stole the family's cattle and executed her father with a single bullet to the head.

So it is little wonder that, as news of a long-awaited Darfur peace deal filtered down to the Gaga refugee camp where she now lives, the 28-year-old did not rush to pack her bags. "I don't have confidence in the Sudanese government to rein in the Janjaweed," she said. "And if these marauders are still in Darfur, how on earth can we be expected to go back and live there?"

Jan Egeland, the UN's chief humanitarian co-ordinator, began a tour of the war-scarred Darfur region yesterday. He will also visit eastern Chad this week, where 200,000 refugees are sheltering. He is likely to encounter a wall of fierce scepticism there regarding Friday's peace deal.

After two years of African Union-sponsored talks, and last-minute pressure from the US and Britain, the Khartoum government and the main SLA faction signed an agreement in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

But two smaller rebel groups rejected the deal. "They are our representatives and they will do what's best for us, the people of Darfur, so if they haven't signed up then there must be a good reason," said Adam Sherif, a butcher and refugee, as he listened to an Arabic news bulletin on a battered radio, propped among yellowing mounds of meat at Gaga's market.

For many, the thought of returning to Darfur is unthinkable, unless they are compensated. "We have lost our belongings, our animals. All these things need to be sorted out before we can begin to contemplate rebuilding our lives back home," said Adama Dingila, a refugee community leader. Camped out in dust-covered tents in a barren landscape broken only by prickly thorn bushes, other refugees said they would be staying put until a UN force was on the ground in Darfur.

The Sudanese government had said it would consider a UN presence after a peace agreement, but with the ink dry on the Abuja deal, Khartoum refused to be drawn over the weekend on whether it would give the green light to blue-helmets.

Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees continue to arrive every week at Gaga camp.

And then there are those such as Halima Anour Yaya, who fled Darfur only to find herself in the midst of Chad's own rebellion, caught in the crossfire between government troops and insurgents bent on ousting Idriss Deby, Chad's President. "When is this going to end?" the wizened 67-year-old said with a sigh. It is a question much of the rest of the world is asking.