To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
31 Aug 2004 07:10
On a shallow slope between two hills of orange rock and sand, a man’s body lies curled in a foetal position. His hands are thrown up as if to protect his face from the bullet that punched a hole in his temple.
A few feet away on the bare slope, another man’s body lies between two youths.
This was the scene of an execution in north-western Darfur. The killings took place in April, but scenes like this are being repeated in Sudan now.
To the south of here, refugees report fresh government and Janjaweed attacks on villages in recent weeks, in defiance of the United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Sudan to disarm the Arab militia.
Massacres of men and boys have been reported by refugees wherever villages have been attacked, but proof of the brutality of the war in Darfur has rarely been witnessed by outsiders. The hillside where the 12 bodies lie faces east over a plain which once held villages of the Zaghawa tribe, a black African ethnic group which the government accuses of forming the backbone of the rebellion.
In April, the Sudanese army and Janjaweed militia conducted a comprehensive campaign of ethnic cleansing in this region; the villages all around have been burned and their inhabitants expelled.
A dozen men and boys from the area were captured and brought to this spot. Their families did not discover what had happened to them until a month later, in May, when a shepherd spotted the human remains.
The victims’ bodies have been partly mummified by the dry air of the semi-desert, but a gentle wind carries the stomach-twisting stink of decomposing flesh.
The man curled in a foetal position lies at the centre of the group. He still has curls of black hair on his scalp. There is a gaping hole at his ankle where it appears to have been chewed by an animal. Running along either side of the slope are the dried-up channels of two mountain streams, and it is here that the rest of the bodies lie.
There are five bodies in one channel, six in the other. Some of the corpses are tangled together, as if men were huddling against each other at the moment they were shot. A rebel soldier, Ahmed Yusuf Ibrahim, identified himself as the brother of one of the victims. Ibrahim (45) said that at the time the government was destroying villages in the area, he and his younger brother, Mohammed Yusuf Ibrahim, were civilians.
The market town in which they lived was attacked from the air and then on the ground by Sudanese soldiers in cars and Janjaweed on horseback.
“I ran, and many women and children ran with me,” Ibrahim said. “I came to the summit of a hill, and I saw far away they captured many people. I ran further away, and I didn’t know what had happened to my brother.” Ibrahim was taken to the scene and identified his 35-year-old brother from his jallabiya robe and his shoes.
Questions remain about precisely who these men and boys were. Ibrahim is now a rebel fighter, and the rebels have much to gain from exploiting the sympathy of the West, but it is hard to fake the emotions he displays.
As he speaks of his brother, Ibrahim lowers his dark glasses once or twice to rub away tears. When he finishes speaking, he breaks into a flood of tears, pulls off his white cotton prayer cap and crushes it against his face.
He insists he joined the Sudan Liberation Army only after the attack on his village. Rebel officers say their base in the area was established only after the Sudanese government onslaught.
It is possible the men were executed because they were captured SLA fighters or sympathisers, but they are all dressed in civilian garb—long tunics or robes—rather than the camouflage combat gear favoured by the rebels. They are mostly barefoot, rather than booted as the fighters are, though their shoes may have been stolen by their killers. And even if they were captured rebels, this is still a war crime.
Ibrahim had wanted to give his brother the proper funeral rites, but rebel commanders ordered him and other relatives not to do so.
“I wanted to bury my brother, as Muslims do. But the SLA said to let him lie free, and let foreigners come and see these crimes.”
He admits feeling disquiet about this breach of custom; he is anxious that his brother’s soul will not find rest.
To leave a Muslim’s body unburied is forbidden by Islam, and local tradition says the unburied man’s spirit will haunt his family’s dreams and drive them insane.
If accounts of the refugees who have poured out of western Sudan are correct, there are many more ghosts to haunt Darfur’s black tribes. - Guardian Unlimited Â
Create Account | Lost Your Password?