As peace in Darfur continues to be an elusive dream and the United Nations postures but remains hesitant to send troops without the consent of the Sudanese government, a flurry of reports of new attacks streamed out of the region this weekend. According to the Guardian, these renewed hostilities have been ongoing since August, leaving several hundred people dead.
The motives for the attack are unclear. The report points out that thousands of African migrants from the Zaghawa and Massalit tribes moved into the area after drought struck north Darfur in the 1970s. They started cultivating land belonging to the Habbania. Although there was always minor tension, some witnesses said the Habbania chose this moment to attack as they feared the possible arrival of foreign peacekeepers would allow the newcomers to settle permanently.
Other evidence suggests that the attacks were in response to raids by rebels from the National Redemption Front, which rejects an internationally brokered peace deal signed in May. According to one Habbania leader, “we attacked after we reported the incidents many times to the government and after we were provoked and attacked”. He said the rebels killed the brother of Agid Ayadi, a militia leader with links to the Sudanese army.
But witnesses claimed that Agid Ayadi had organised a meeting to get recruits for the attacks on the African villages. Two people recognised high-ranking government officials in uniform at the meeting, where the militia leaders boasted of having government blessing for the raids. The local government commissioner told the UN’s investigators that the attacks were a response “to earlier attacks by the rebels”.
Jean Christophe, a protection officer for the UN mission in Sudan, gave a third possible reason for the attacks – “the location of the emptied villages matches the map of oil concessions in south Darfur, so oil may have something to do with it.”
Even now, as reports from the UNHCR claim that they’re preparing to move several refugee camps further into Chad (away from the fighting), one has to wonder if they learned any lessons from Rwanda. With reports of Chadian military involvement in other border skirmishes, it’s hard not to draw parallels between the camps in Chad and those that existed in Zaire.