In February 2005 Darfurian children drew for Human Rights Watch researchers scenes of armed men on horses and camels attacking their villages.53 The drawings included images of people fleeing attack helicopters and falling bombs. Large-scale air and ground attacks are less frequent today, but they are not unknown. Buram locality in South Darfur has been the site of two recent campaigns that recall images from the height of the conflict in late 2003 and 2004.
In 2006, as various rebel groups were negotiating with the government and others were splintering off into increasingly numerous factions, a former SLA/Minawi rebel fighter named Siddiq founded a new group and settled in Buram locality. The presence of his group further destabilized an area where many Arab and African groups had been living together in relative harmony prior to the conflict. Siddiqs group and other rebels launched small-scale attacks against government targets in the locality. Arab tribal leaders felt threatened and blamed non-Arab groups for allowing the rebels into the area.
Before long, Arab militias comprising mostly men from the Habbania ethnic group launched what one observer described as a ridiculously brutal attack on dozens of villages, in which the militia went out of their way to torture peopletying men to horses and letting the horses run; throwing people into burning houses; killing many young children.54 The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that militia claiming to have material support from government authorities burned and looted villages, displacing thousands of people primarily from the Zaghawa, Masalit, and Misseriya-Jebel tribes, and killing possibly hundreds of civilians.55 Some people from the area believed the real motivation behind the attack was to change the demography of the region before the arrival of international troops.56
Fighting started up again on May 12, 2007, this time with far more direct government involvement, after rebels ambushed a large convoy of police and Popular Defense Force vehicles that was heading to Buram locality to confront Siddiqs group about its alleged involvement in marijuana trade.57 In retaliation the government launched an air attack on several villages, claiming they were aiming at rebels. Meanwhile, Gimir members of the Popular Defense Force went on a rampage, looting property, raping several women, and beating and shooting others.58 Entire villages including Um Bereida and Sessaban, which had already received people fleeing the 2006 attacks, were targeted for their support or perceived support of the rebels.59 An international observer told Human Rights Watch, The second attack was a carbon copy of the first, but without the high casualty figures. This time people fled from what they remembered in 2006.60
An emerging feature of the conflict in South Darfur is the rising intensity of inter-Arab fighting. Small skirmishes over political power and land rights as well as accusations of murder and abduction are common among various Arab groups in Darfur.61 But the level of violence dramatically increased after many Arab men were recruited into government security forces, primarily the Popular Defense Force and Border Intelligence force, each of which are notorious for carrying out attacks against civilians.62
The governor of South Darfur downplayed the violence, describing to a journalist how the clashes were just a natural part of the life of the tribes, and said the fighting was predictable.63 But this natural fighting exploded to new levels in 2007 and the government was unwilling to protect civilians and prevent members of its Popular Defense Force and Border Intelligence from engaging in predictable attacks that resulted in death, beatings, looting, and mass displacement.
While Arab communities bore the brunt of these internecine conflicts, the hostilities have broader repercussions because they contribute to the general climate of insecurity that is preventing Darfurs 2.2 million internally displaced persons from leaving their camps or returning home. As one humanitarian worker told Human Rights Watch, This is happening at a seasonal time when displaced people want to be farming.64
In January 2007 the intense inter-tribal fighting broke out between the Tarjum and Rizeigat Abbala groups in the Bulbul area of South Darfur. Both have members in Sudans security forces. A number of Tarjum men are enlisted in, and were armed by, the Popular Defense Force, and many Rizeigat Abbala are enlisted in, and were armed by, the Border Intelligence force.65 By March over 100 people had been killed or injured, thousands of civilians had been displaced, their property stolen and houses burned.66 The immediate tensions of the conflict can be traced to the Rizeigat Abbala accusing the Tarjum of murders and the Tarjum accusing the Rizeigat Abbala of abductions.67 But political maneuvering, land competition, and government favoritism towards the Rizeigat Abbala probably lies at the root of this conflict.
In 1995 the Tarjum, a traditional farming and cattle-herding Arab group, had been granted stewardship over part of the traditional land of the non-Arab Fur tribe. The Rizeigat Abbala are pastoralists and camel herders, and Bulbul is on their traditional migratory route. Small Rizeigat Abbala settlements have proliferated on the land over the years, creating tensions with the Tarjum. The Rizeigat Abbala have no land of their own, and, according to OHCHR, this may be why they entered the Darfur conflict on the government side.68 Indeed, some Rizeigat Abbala have even settled on land from which the Tarjum have been displaced.69
In early 2007 the government tried to calm tensions by facilitating a reconciliation agreement between the Tarjum and Rizeigat Abbala and sending security forces to the area, but the agreement was soon broken and fighting resumed.70 The intense fighting finally subsided in March, but started again three months later and has now spread to West Darfur, with reports of scores of casualties on both sides, including the killing of Tarjum civilians at a funeral procession on July 31, 2007.71 A Tarjum tribal leader told journalists that a temporary ceasefire agreement was signed in mid-August,72 but history has shown that these agreements are very fragile, and the looting of a few cattle or the murder of one person may spark a return to all-out conflict.
In early 2007 fighting also erupted between the Salamat and Fallata on one side and the Habbania on the otherall Arab groupsin South Darfur and then broke out again in late August.73 A South Darfur observer explained to Human Rights Watch, The government is totally unable to deal with these tribal conflicts because the government supported the Habbania and Fallata with guns and helped build their militias. Just like the Tarjum and Rizeigat Abbala fighting, the government doesnt want to take concrete actions to stop the violence.74 As long as the Sudanese government continues to selectively recruit, arm, or otherwise support militia on an ethnic basis, Darfurs communities will continue to be divided and destroyed.
53 Darfur Drawn: The Conflict in Darfur through Childrens Eyes, Human Rights Watch multimedia presentation, 2005, http://www.hrw.org/photos/2005/darfur/drawings/introduction.htm.
54 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name and location withheld, August 24, 2007.
55 OHCHR, Fifth periodic report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Sudan: Killings of civilians by militia in Buram locality, South Darfur, Geneva, October 6, 2007, pp. 4-5.
56 Ibid., p. 4. The report also notes, This area was not the traditional homeland for tribes of African origin.
57 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name and location withheld, August 24, 2007.
58 Confidential source seen by Human Rights Watch.
59 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name and location withheld, August 24, 2007.
60 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name and location withheld, August 24, 2007.
61 OHCHR, Seventh periodic report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Sudan: Involvement of Sudanese security personnel in attacks on the Bulbul area of South Darfur from January to March 2007, Geneva, May 18, 2007; and confidential sources seen by Human Rights Watch. The Popular Defense Force is a paramilitary reserve component of Sudans armed forces. It is codified by the Popular Defense Force Act of 1989. The Border Intelligence forces are known to be under the control of Military Intelligence.
62 OHCHR, Seventh periodic report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Sudan: Involvement of Sudanese security personnel in attacks on the Bulbul area of South Darfur from January to March 2007, p. 4.
63 Jeffrey Gettleman, Chaos in Darfur Rises as Arabs Fight With Arabs, New York Times, August 28, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/03/world/africa/03darfur.html?_r=1&ref=africa&oref=slogin (accessed September 5, 2007).
64 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, West Darfur, August 14, 2007.
65 OHCHR, Seventh periodic report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Sudan: Involvement of Sudanese security personnel in attacks on the Bulbul area of South Darfur from January to March 2007.
66 Ibid., p. 1.
67 Confidential government document seen by Human Rights Watch.
68 OHCHR, Seventh periodic report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Sudan: Involvement of Sudanese security personnel in attacks on the Bulbul area of South Darfur from January to March 2007, p. 4.
69 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name and location withheld, August 24, 2007.
70 Confidential government document seen by Human Rights Watch.
71 UNMIS Office of the Spokesperson, UNMIS News Bulletin, July 26, 2007, http://www.unmis.org/english/2007Docs/PIO-UNMISbulletin-jul26.pdf; UNMIS News Bulletin, July 31, 2007, http://www.unmis.org/english/2007Docs/PIO-UNMISbulletin-jul31.pdf; UNMIS News Bulletin, August 1, 2007, http://www.unmis.org/english/2007Docs/PIO-UNMISbulletin-aug01.pdf; UNMIS News Bulletin, August 9, 2007, http://www.unmis.org/english/2007Docs/PIO-UNMISbulletin-aug09.pdf (all accessed August 19, 2007); and confidential sources provided to Human Rights Watch.
72 Darfur Arab tribes sign truce after clashes kill 140, Reuters, August 13, 2007, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article23249 (accessed August 19, 2007).
73 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, South Darfur, August 29, 2007.
74 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, South Darfur, August 29, 2007.