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Darfur farmers live in fear of attack by Arab militiamen

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Returning to his land in Darfur after 10 years in an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp, Abbas Abdallah was attacked and his crops were destroyed. He now fears that he has resettled too hastily in his village in this unstable region of Sudan.

A member of the Bergid tribe, the farmer was attacked in January by Arab nomads on horse and camelback in his village, 90 kilometers northeast of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur.

“The Arab horsemen whipped me and forced me to stand under the scorching sun until dusk,” the octogenarian told AFP.

“Then they allowed their cattle to graze on my crops. Everything was destroyed.”

Abdallah is one of about 700 people who have decided to resettle in Hamada in recent years after fleeing the deadly conflict in West Darfur, which began in 2003.

The recent attack brings back memories of the worst hours of the conflict between the Arab-majority forces of the regime of former President Omar al-Bashir, who was deposed in April 2019, and ethnic minorities in the region who consider themselves marginalized.

The violence resulted in an estimated 300,000 deaths, especially in the early years of the conflict, and more than 2.5 million people displaced, according to the UN.

In 2005, Hamada was attacked by armed Janjaweed militia, composed of Arab nomads in the pay of Bashir and accused of committing atrocities.

They set fire to farms, slaughtered animals, and caused the exodus of the 3,000 inhabitants of the village who took refuge – like the old man – in camps for displaced persons in Sudan.

In 2016, Abdallah decided to return to his village, where the UN/African Union (UNAMID) peace mission was conducting regular patrols, as the conflict subsided.

Back on his fertile land, the peasant resumed growing oranges, mangoes, and vegetables.

Scuffles sometimes broke out with Arab herders over access to land or theft of livestock.

Insecurity

But the outbreak of violence that engulfed the region in mid-January, killing 250 people and injuring dozens in the states of South and West Darfur, terrified him.

Coming two weeks after the end of UNAMID’s 13-year presence in the region, the clashes were the deadliest in months.

In addition to Abdallah, other villagers are concerned about the increasing insecurity in Hamada.

Khadija Bekhit says she has faced roadblocks by Arab militiamen on the road she uses to collect wood. “They hit us and hold us for hours,” she says.

Armed with firearms, Arab nomads regularly destroy the crops, laments farmer Mohamed Adam.

Recently, the army and police have been deployed to the region to prevent further clashes.

But the people of Hamada feel that the authorities have not done enough to protect them.

“There are only four policemen in the village and they don’t even have a car to chase the attackers,” Adam said.

For Abdallah Mohamed, a Bergid tribal chief, the renewed attacks may deter exiled villagers from returning.