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New Atrocities Reported Throughout Darfur

Sudanese refugees tell of Arab militia attacks on villages. A record of victims is lost, along with lives, in a mosque set ablaze.

September 06, 2004|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

KALMA CAMP, Sudan — When the mosque at Yassin village was burned by Arab militias more than a week ago, there was no way to save four frail old men who died in the flames.

A list of 485 dead from the surrounding area, painstakingly collected by local people over two months, burned in the mosque too, village leaders said.

Some survivors of the latest atrocities in the south Darfur region have trickled into the Kalma camp for displaced persons outside Nyala in recent days. Aid officials report that about 1,000 families -- more than 5,000 people -- are still making their way to the camp.

The attacks mirror violence by Arab militias throughout the Darfur region, which have caused 1.2 million people to flee their villages since last year. The U.N. has described it as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, estimating that between 30,000 and 50,000 have died.

Arab militias have attacked Yassin, about 30 miles east of Nyala, four times since the beginning of July. Dozens of people took refuge in the mosque toward the end of August, but in the final attack, the militias torched it and the village. Attacks continued for three days, and 60 people were killed, said one village leader, Mahmoud Adam Isak.

Isak, 38, had to bury his baby daughter Friday when he arrived in Kalma.

He fled Yassin with his wife and 13 children in early July, and they hid in the forest outside the village with about 70 families.

But they were attacked again. They fled to a nearby village, then to another, but week after week the Arab militias swept on, ravaging the settlements one by one, killing men and kidnapping girls, he said.

Isak's family was sheltering in Ladok village, near Yassin, eight days ago when they were attacked again.

The family fled at night and was on the road five days. His 9-month-old daughter, weak with malnutrition, died the day the family reached the camp.

Isak said the attackers were Arab tribal militias, known locally as janjaweed. He said there was a big base of about 2,000 Arab militiamen in Assalaya, east of Nyala.

"They have horses and guns, and some of them have cars," he said.

Another Yassin resident, Mikail Abdullah Hamad, 52, said: "We thought it would be safe in the mosque."

But he described havoc as the building was set ablaze. No one could rescue the four old men, who could not walk.

"I have 21 in my family. My only thought was to save them," Hamad said.

He and others had worked collecting the names of all the people killed in villages around Yassin, sending messengers by donkey or cart to collect information after each attack. The number could not be independently verified.

"There was no way to save the list when the mosque burned," he said.

Hamad listed other villages that were attacked, including Hijalij, Um Hashim, Abu Albishari and Ladok.

Yassin's population of 7,000 has scattered, many fleeing to the town of Muhajariya, east of Nyala. The French humanitarian organization Solidarites reported last week that there were 29,000 displaced people in Muhajariya and described the water and sanitation situation as dire.

After the second attack on Yassin in July, Adam Ismail, 35, packed up the goods from his small street stall onto a cart, took his two wives and seven children and fled. He did not get far.

His wife, Mohassin Mohammed, 20, watched as militiamen gave chase, shot him to death and killed her 4-year-old son.

Rauda Abdullah, 25, his other wife, saw the fighters grab Nasrine, her 3-year-old daughter. She stood in anguished silence as they carried off the screaming, crying girl. She has not seen her since.

"I didn't make a sound. There was nothing I could do. She was weeping and crying, and I felt sick inside," she said. "They saw her pale color, so they thought she was an Arab. They took her because of her color."

The conflict in Darfur has pitted Arab militias -- often lighter-skinned -- against black tribes including the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa people.

In south Darfur, security on the roads has deteriorated sharply in the past week, with four incidents of vehicles of aid workers and journalists being shot at or robbed. The U.N. suspended travel in south Darfur for one day Friday.

A U.N. report Sunday said attacks in the north Darfur region had increased sharply. Up to 4,000 people fled their homes in recent days after attacks on Zam Zam village, about 100 miles north of here, said the report.

There were smaller attacks on the villages of Thur and Golol in south Darfur, with shops looted and three people killed in recent days. Another attack in Ishma, near Kalma, was reported two days ago, but there was no information on casualties.

A report to the U.N. Security Council last week said the Sudanese government had failed to stop attacks or disarm most militias and called for African Union monitors to be given a broader mandate to investigate abuses. U.S. officials strongly criticized the report's finding that there was no evidence of government involvement in recent attacks.

Human rights groups have called for U.N. sanctions against Sudan, but there is opposition from some Security Council members, including Russia and China.

In a move designed to keep pressure on Sudan, however, the European Union is drawing up sanctions, including a ban on oil trade, for possible future use. The U.S. has had sanctions against Sudan since 1997.

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