We are victims too, say Darfur's Arab refugees

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A few miles from a camp at Opash is another at Mossei. One is packed with African refugees, the other Arabs, the dispossessed from the opposing sides of Darfur's internecine conflict.

A few miles from a camp at Opash is another at Mossei. One is packed with African refugees, the other Arabs, the dispossessed from the opposing sides of Darfur's internecine conflict.

The perceived view is that the African civilians have been the victims of the murderous Janjaweed militia in a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Sudanese government.

But the Arabs say they have been so demonised their own suffering is being ignored. They say they too have been attacked, driven from their homes, and abandoned to face pending epidemics of cholera, malaria and hepatitis. They say their persecutors are African tribes in league with the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, with their own campaigns of driving out another community,

Ten thousand people are in the three camps at Mossei, near Nyala, the capital of south Darfur. Some are from Arab tribes who supply recruits to the Janjaweed, and are viewed with deep suspicion by the African villagers. The rumour in the souks is that these people are not refugees, but a fifth column awaiting orders to act.

The suspicious say a large number of young men are among the refugees. Some say other men visit the camps at night. The charities which predominate here are from Arab countries, often with strong Sunni links. The same groups have tried to persuade African refugees to return to their homes, and the waiting Janjaweed, with money.

Abdullah Hassan Suleiman, the omdar or chief sheikh at Mossei, vehemently denied links with the Janjaweed, and said this was the kind of false accusation which was putting them in danger. "If we were with the Janjaweed, do you think we'd be sitting here in this misery? We had to flee our village because the Zarghawa and the Daju [tribes] attacked us. They killed 18 of our men and kidnapped three women and two men.

"We have never had any problems with our African neighbours. It was outsiders who came and did this to us. The excuse always is what the Janjaweed are doing, and that seems to make it all right to do bad things to us."

The three abducted women had returned. They say they were captured returning to retrieve belongings from their village, 22 miles from Nyala, with two male relatives. Noura Abdullah Usman, 45, said: "We were almost home when they caught us. Four men started dragging us from my brother Abdullah and my uncle, Abdul Hamid, when their leader came and took charge of us women. We were put in a car and taken to Hijer, a village where the Africans used to live before they were driven away by bandits. We feared that we would be attacked.

"One of the women started to cry and pleaded with the men not to hurt us. They took us to Lobado [a town to the south] where we were tied up and accused of being the women of the Janjaweed. A man came in and beat us with a belt, and said they'll do to us what the Arabs did to their women."

Another woman, Ayasha Abdullah Abu, 20, said: "We saw our men being brought into the building. They looked scared and one of them shouted they were going to be killed. That was the last we saw of them. We were threatened with beatings, but the commander sent three men to guard us and nothing more happened."

The next morning the three women were driven to Nyala and freed at the camp. The African commander also gave them a note for the police explaining why they were held.

The only Middle East charity at Mossei is the Haiat Al-Amal, from the United Arab Emirates. Dr Mirgani Mohammed Isa, who is Sudanese, said: "All we are doing is providing medical help. I have heard about Sunni Arabs who are said to be trying to convert Africans who are Sufis, but we do not do that. We work closely with Unicef."

Feelings of bitterness run deep among many refugees. Asif Omar Sayeed, a 23-year-old from the Arab Targim tribe, said: "The foreigners blame us for everything. But I realise what is going on. The Americans and the British want to use this as an excuse to occupy our country, just as they have done in Iraq. Like Iraq, we have oil. What has happened made me realise that as a true Muslim I must fight for my country when the foreigners come."

* The Independent's Darfur Appeal has now collected £32,892 from readers, the charity Concern reported yesterday.