Tora Bora army strikes back at the Janjaweed

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The Independent Online

The Tora Bora soldiers were exultant. They had fought off a Janjaweed and government force, and the next operation, they insisted, would be even more spectacular.

The Tora Bora soldiers were exultant. They had fought off a Janjaweed and government force, and the next operation, they insisted, would be even more spectacular.

Commander Ibrahim was apologetic for the lack of suku suku, the local beer made out of sorghum, but there was no shortage of rice or goat meat to celebrate the victory.

"The battle was over there, and it was a big battle," said the commander, waving his arm across the fields and wadis.

"We fought the military and the Janjaweed. They were many times our size, but they did not have our bravery and skills with weapons. They are good at killing women and children, but they cannot fight men like us."

His men around him laughed and cheered and waved their tin plates and complimented each other. One tried to pick up his Kalashnikov for a spot of ceremonial shooting but dropped it through his greasy fingers, making those around him flinch.

The "battle" appeared to have really been little more than a skirmish. The Tora Bora had suffered few casualties; one man had a wounded leg where a bullet had passed through without hitting any bones, and another had dislocated his shoulder swinging a heavy machine-gun too enthusiastically. It is doubtful that the enemy had fared any worse.

The fighters, about 70 of them, were resting at a sprawling abandoned village north-east of Nyala, the capital of south Darfur. They were a mixture of tribes - the Masalit, Fur, Zaghawa, Birgit and Daju - from the hills of Jabal Mara and Toor. They had adopted their name - from the Afghan mountain where the Taliban and its al-Qa'ida allies fought one of their last battles - to symbolise their own martial prowess.

Not all the fighters were purely black. Some had Arab blood, an example of the complex relationship between the two communities despite the savage internecine conflict.

The Janjaweed, blamed for the worst of the brutalities, is a government-backed Arab militia. But some of its fights have been against other Arab tribes which refused to join attacks on African civilians or rebels.

"My mother is Terjem, an Arab, and my father is from the Daju, which is African," said Ahmed Adem Abdurrahman, 26. "But I hate the Janjaweed. They are thieves and murderers. Other Arabs should be ashamed of them. When I am shooting my rifle at them, I feel proud. They attacked the Mahaliyah [another Arab tribe], but they were fought off."

The Tora Bora fighters take care to look tough. They have Rambo headbands and wraparound sunglasses, bandoliers of cartridges slung across naked chests. They carry an assortment of light weaponry - semi-automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, an old flame thrower which appeared not to work, and a machine-gun. Most of the weapons, they said, had been captured from government troops and their militia allies.

Suleiman Ali Wahid had brought his own weapons. A policeman for 12 years, he deserted after the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed sacked the village of Yassin in June despite repeated protests by him and others in the area's police force that no rebels were present.

"The soldiers were in Land Cruisers and the Janjaweed came on camels and horses. We kept on saying that this was a mistake, there were no [rebels] there. We would have known; we were the police. But they would not listen. They burned the village and killed around 20 people," Mr Wahid said. "Three of us decided to leave the following day. I took four rifles and some ammunition and headed north where my people were. I ended up with the Tora Bora."

The government insists that groups such as the Tora Bora are criminals and terrorists who have been responsible for countless murders and widespread looting.

Commander Ibrahim, 42, a farmer who took up arms after his wife and two children were killed in a government attack in north Darfur, denies this. "We do not kill civilians, that is the job of Khartoum," he said.

But in Arab refugee camps near Nyala can be heard accounts of the Tora Bora executing men they claimed were Janjaweed and driving Arabs from their villages.

Noura Mohammed and Ayasha Abdullah Abu were kidnapped near the village of Mirair by, they say, the Tora Bora. They were released, unharmed, three days later, and Commander Ibrahim even gave them some money to get home. But two male relations with them, Yaheer Abdullah and Mousa Hamid Mohammed, are still missing. "We can only hope they are still alive," said Ms Abu.