Background Briefing

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Other ceasefire violations by government forces and rebel groups

The ceasefire appears to have had only a temporary effect in reducing fighting between government and rebel forces in North and West Darfur. The past few months have seen increased fighting between government and rebel forces in South Darfur, and recent clashes in North Darfur.55 Attacks on civilians by government forces and Janjaweed militias continued in numerous parts of Darfur as well as in Chad.  SLA attacks also took place in some locations, and Human Rights Watch documented an increasing proliferation of armed groups operating along the border, an alarming indicator of potential further instability.

Ceasefire violations by government forces and militias included incidents of bombing by Antonov aircraft, joint attacks with Janjaweed militia forces in Darfur and Chad, and continued attacks by Janjaweed militias operating alone. The rebel forces have also launched attacks on alleged military targets and responded to attacks by government-backed militias.  Civilian self-defense groups have also occasionally participated in these engagements.

Incidents of aerial bombardment by government forces

Indiscriminate aerial bombardment has been a prominent feature of the Sudanese government’s military strategy in Darfur. Human Rights Watch has documented extensive examples of indiscriminate aerial bombardment by Sudanese government Antonovs, helicopter gunships, and MiG fighter planes in Darfur in 2003 and 2004.56 In early April 2004, the Sudanese government arrested and detained a group of Sudanese air force officers on grounds of treason and “plotting against the state” because they reportedly refused to continue the bombing raids.57

The Sudanese government continued to use its aircraft to bomb both civilian and suspected SLA targets after the ceasefire agreement was signed on April 8, 2004. The incidents below, all of which took place following the coming into effect of the ceasefire agreement of April 11, 2004, represent only a partial and inconclusive list of incidents, and in some cases it is unclear whether targets were civilian or were in fact rebel military targets. 

  • Late-April, 2004:  Diisa reportedly bombed. Eyewitnesses saw four fresh graves from that period.58

  • May 28, 2004:  Tabit, a market town 20 km south of el Fashir, North Darfur. At approximately 2 p.m, one Antonov airplane accompanied by two helicopter gunships dropped three bombs on the market area and killed at least 12 people.59

  • May 2004:  Shangil Toubai, south-east of el Fashir, North Darfur. The exact circumstances of this incident remain unclear though people were injured in the attack. 60

  • June 3, 2004:  Funu, south-east of Karnoi, reportedly bombed, injuring six people, following an encounter between SLA and Janjaweed militia over cattle.61

    Despite the use of MiG jets in earlier bombing incidents in 2004, the only aircraft described by witnesses in bombing incidents over the past four months were Antonov aircraft and helicopter gunships.

    The Sudanese government continues to use barrel bombs in its aerial attacks by Antonov planes. These bombs are generally filled with shrapnel and dropped from the aircraft, which fly at high altitude. A Zaghawa woman who survived such an attack in Omda Dabo, a village in Furawiya said “there were two aeroplanes, two Antonovs. They were high and destroyed parts of the village with fire. The school was destroyed and the market.”62  The woman told Human Rights Watch that the bombs used were barrel bombs. She said:

    There were about six or seven “birmil” [barrels]. There was more metal inside the barrel which could cut anything. There was a strong fire which destroyed many things. The barrels fell in the middle of the village and many building were on fire. There were big holes, like wells, but the color of the soil in the holes had become white from the fire and the heat.63

    Human Rights Watch also received numerous reports of Sudanese government aircraft being used in support of continuing ground operations. For instance, in several documented attacks on SLA targets and possible self-defense militia sites along the border, Sudanese helicopters were reported to have been used for reconnaissance purposes.

    Cross-border incursions into Chad and the militarization of the border

    As a result of the spillover of the Darfur conflict into Chad and the presence of large numbers of refugees along the border, the Chadian-Sudanese border has become increasingly militarized over the past few months, with a proliferation of armed groups operating on both sides of the border, with a variety of interests. This is partly related to the presence of both the Zaghawa and Masalit tribes on both sides of the border—many of the refugees have congregated in communities and villages of kin.


    The large numbers of livestock among the displaced and refugees along the border have also created a magnet for these attacks.  In turn, the primary focus of recent incursions by Janjaweed militia and government forces into Chad appears to be the acquisition of livestock as well as possibly pursuing rebel or self-defense forces along the border; killing of civilians does not appear to be the main objective but occurs where victims protest or react to livestock theft. The increasing incursions are sometimes coordinated attacks with government aerial support apparently providing reconnaissance information to government troops and militias on the ground.

    The spiral of violence created by these incursions have contributed to a proliferation of civilian militias along the border, some formed to defend against the Sudanese incursions, and while armed fighters have been killed on both sides, there are also incidents in which civilians have been seriously injured or killed by the incursions. 

    Militia groups from within Chad as well as militias composed of refugees are also both apparent along the border. Human Rights Watch documented the presence of at least ten armed groups along the border, an alarming growth in armed activity that threatens the stability not only of the area, but potentially, Chad itself.

    For instance in north-eastern Chad the following groups (amongst others) can be identified around the Sinet area:64

  • The Chadian national army based in the larger towns of Gereida, Koulbus (Chad) and Birak but without significant presence in the rural areas;

  • The Chadian National Nomadic Gendarmerie (Gendarmarie National Nomadique de Tchad) who liaise with the national army;

  • Chadian village civilian self-defense militia, who liaise with the army and GNNT; their role is to defend the villages;

  • Mixed Sudanese - Chadian militia, reportedly led by Chief Abdullahi Dubulai, a Chadian from Bessa village, east of Birak

  • Zaghawa militia: well armed on camels or horses; the dominant group on the Sinet plains and reputedly responsible directly back to members of the Chadian government.

    In addition, the following groups also have a presence in the vicinity:

  • Sudanese rebels (either JEM or SLA);

  • “Janjaweed” government-backed militias based in Sudan;

  • Sudanese national army based in Sudan;

  • Gimr militias based in Sudan, sometimes working with the government-backed Janjaweed militia;

  • Tama rebel militia based in Sudan, allegedly led by Mohamid Nuur and believed to be working in opposition to President Deby and possibly receiving assistance from some of the Janjaweed militia.

  • Masalit self-defense groups in the Adré area in south-eastern Chad or militia composed of men from Sudan and Chad, which may have links to the SLA.

    Incursions into north- and south-eastern Chad

    Numerous cross-border incursions by government-backed militias and other armed groups took place along the border between Sudan and Chad in the Sinet and Korok areas, near Birak in north-eastern Chad, in recent months. Human Rights Watch documented at least a dozen incidents in June 2004 alone.


    A member of one of the village self-defense groups who witnessed an incursion into Farida in late-June, 2004 said that Janjaweed militias and government forces “entered the village at about 4:00 a.m. They had vehicles but the vehicles stayed on the border whilst about 150 Janjaweed came across, about 7 km into Chad….All the Janjaweed wore khaki uniforms and forage caps.” 65 The militias killed three villagers and reportedly stole 200 camels before returning to Sudan.

    Human Rights Watch researchers visited Tomasalaat village, located on the border, two days after it was attacked. In the village were three fresh graves, those of the dead. A member of the one of the deceased’s family described what happened in the village:

    The Janjaweed came into the village, from the south, at about 8 o’clock in the morning. There were about 150 Janjaweed…wearing khaki camouflage uniforms. Each was riding a horse but four were on camels. There were four officers, one was ‘abu salah’ [shaven headed or bald]. There were no GoS soldiers with them – I didn’t see any soldiers.66

    The Janjaweed stole livestock. The livestock were all around the village, in eight enclosures…The dead men were all together. They did not have guns. One, he heard the sound of the Janjaweed coming, came out of his hut and started running and was shot, at close range. ‘Sit down, sit down” said the Janjaweed, and they killed the man.67

    Incursions have also taken place south of Adré along the south-eastern border between Darfur and Chad.  Typical of the incursions in this area was an incident which occurred on June 14, 2004, just a day before Human Rights Watch visited the area. A string of villages are located to the west of, and slightly above, Wadi Kaja, the river-bed that traces the border between Chad and Sudan. Four villages were attacked in succession, in a concerted operation on June 14, 2004.  One witness said, “they were Janjaweed – I know, I’ve seen them many times!....They worked together with the army, moving from village to village in a single operation, taking in three or four settlements. They were all mixed up, but there were more Janjaweed.”68

    The operation began from the north at about 9 a.m. with the incursion moving southwards from Jerkariya, Andabirtu, Abuartar and then Bir Bira:69 Initially, “two helicopters came from Sudan, across the border. They were low……and circled probably twice, looking at the people.”70  The helicopters were followed by ground attacks:

    After this the camels and horses came. They came into Chad. This was at Jerikariya. The Janjaweed don’t have planes but they came after [the helicopter], so we know they were working together [with GoS]. There were many of them, about 100. There were Sudanese, ‘tashmil’ [combined] or ‘mulakhbat’ [mixed], they were mixed, working together. The people riding the camels were wearing trousers and shirts, khaki, just like the army. The Sudanese army came with the Janjaweed. They came with cars….Land cruisers, army Landcruisers, army-colored, with ‘dushka’ on the roof. There were two vehicles but many camels.71

    One witness claimed that a presumably Sudanese ‘three star’ officer was present, who was also wearing yellow epaulettes.72 Four men died in the attack, at least one of whom was reportedly armed and a member of a self-defense militia. A man who was injured in the attack said, “the Janjaweed only shot at men. There were maybe about 200 Janjaweed. The shepherds ran away from the livestock and the Janjaweed took the livestock.”73

    Abuses by rebel forces

    Human Rights Watch has attempted to document violations of international humanitarian law by rebel groups operating in Darfur, however this information is incomplete due to lack of access into government-controlled areas of Sudan, where most alleged victims and witnesses of rebel abuses would be present. Human Rights Watch researchers have submitted applications for visas to the government of Sudan but to date have not received authorization to travel to government-controlled areas of Darfur.

    Certain abuses and ceasefire violations by rebel forces have been reported. The Sudanese government has apparently reported over 100 alleged ceasefire violations by rebel forces to the African Union.  In June 2004, SLA forces temporarily detained 16 humanitarian workers while they were conducting an assessment in North Darfur, but released them unharmed after U.N. intervention.74 

    Human Rights Watch also raised the issue of the need to distinguish rebel forces from civilian refugee and displaced camps in a meeting with representatives of the two rebel movements in June 2004, and urged them to take every measure to ensure that rebel forces remain separate from civilian locations. Yet clearly there is rebel presence among, for instance some populations of refugees in Chad. In March 2004, a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed the presence of combatants among the refugee population in Bahai, Chad, although it was unclear whether these individuals were armed.

    On a more recent visit to the refugee camps and settlements in Chad in June, it was clear that the refugee population in Bahai is also a source of recruitment for the rebel forces.75  Allegations of contacts with the rebel movement and the presence of arms within the refugee camps have also been made with regard to the recent violence in Farchana and Bredjing camps, in which two refugees were killed by Chadian troops.76 While Human Rights Watch believes that there are contacts between the refugee population and the rebel movements, it remains unclear whether there are active armed elements within the camps.

    This situation should be closely monitored by the UNHCR and the Chadian authorities, however, to ensure that the civilian character of the refugee camps is maintained.

    [55] The U.N. reported clashes between SLA and government forces in Tne, Karnoi and Am Barou (Umbarou) in late July. U.N. Weekly Humanitarian Roundup, 18 -25 July, 2004, at

    [56] Human Rights Watch documented the use of MiG aircraft in numerous bombing attacks on both military and civilian targets in North Darfur in December 2003 and January 2004.[56]  However, the use of MiGs appears to have diminished in recent months. The Sudanese government received the first two of an order of 12 Russian-made MiG-29 planes (10 MiG 29SE and 2 MiG-29UB jets) in December 2003. A second pair of MiGs was delivered to Sudan in January 2004. See Periscope Daily Defense News Capsules, “Sudan: Air Force Finally Takes Delivery of Russian Fighters,” March 31, 2004, and Lyuba Pronina, “MiG Under Fire for Arming Sudan,” The Moscow Times, July 21, 2004.

    [57] Nina Elbagir, “Sudan says arrested officers reluctant over orders,” Reuters, April 6, 2004.

    [58] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 10, 2004.

    [59] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, May 28, 2004 and Reuters, “Witnesses say aircraft bomb village in W. Sudan,” May 28, 2004.

    [60] One source reported that this bombing was aimed at an SLA camp which was located close to a civilian settlement.

    [61] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 10, 2004.

    [62] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 25 2004

    [63] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 25 2004

    [64] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 20, 2004

    [65] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 18, 2004.

    [66] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 19, 2004.

    [67] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 19, 2004.

    [68] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 15, 2004.

    [69] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 15, 2004.

    [70] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 15, 2004.

    [71]Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 15, 2004.

    [72]Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 15, 2004.

    [73]Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 15, 2004.

    [74] “UN OCHA Statement on detention and release of humanitarian workers in Darfur,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, June 6, 2004, at

    [75] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 2004.

    [76] Agence France Presse, “Two Darfur refugees killed in Chad amid tensions with aid groups: UN,” July 25, 2004.

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