Daniel Howden: Untold horror in the arid badlands of West Sudan

The view from Darfur
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The Independent Online

For six years the area around Muhajeria has been ravaged by some of the worst atrocities committed in Darfur. The town and its surrounding villages in the arid scrub of West Sudan have witnessed hundreds killed in cold blood, women raped, villages burnt and food stocks destroyed.

Tens of thousands of Fur, Masalit and Zaghawans – like Joker Hagar Idris – have been swept up in a war in which civilians were regularly targeted as a way of striking back against ethnic groups which are seen by Khartoum to back the rebel groups fighting against the central government.

A report by Human Rights Watch in 2005 concluded: "Sudanese government and government-backed Janjaweed militia unleashed a violent campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' and crimes against humanity... Civilians suffered deliberate and indiscriminate attacks by land and air, and suffered a range of human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, and pillage."

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled Muhajeria repeatedly only to find that the violence follows them. As many as half the area's population have been displaced since 2006, according to Médecins Sans Frontières.

The outskirts of Muhajeria and Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, have been transformed into holding camps for the displaced people often seeking protection. These camps have routinely been targeted by militia fighters and army soldiers with countless reports of murder, rape and assault. A small UN-African Union force has been tasked with protecting civilians but often denied resources.

Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir last year became the first sitting head of state to be indicted for war crimes. The UN estimates 300,000 people have died in the conflict. Khartoum says the number of deaths is far lower.

Muhajeria has been a stronghold of the Justice and Equality Movement, one of the two main rebel groups fighting for greater autonomy. The rebels' presence has led to bombing raids with high civilian casualties. The area was plunged back into fighting in August 2007 after a period of relative calm. The conflict has again subsided but in recent months a wave of kidnappings has further destabilised the area and forced some aid organisations to scale back operations.

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