Shallow grave is testimony to Sudan’s lies

Shallow grave is testimony to Sudan’s lies

Gethin Chamberlain, In Nami, North Darfur, for The Scotsman, 4 August 2004

THE grave is just a mound of earth, no more than two feet high at its peak and 10ft in diameter. It lies about 50 yards from the edge of the village of Nami in North Darfur. From the thorn tree a few yards away some branches have been torn and strewn across the top. A couple of blades of fresh grass are poking through the sandy soil and five dark stones have been placed on top.

From more than a few yards away, no-one would notice this final resting place, this testimony to the brutality of the ethnic cleansing that has sullied Darfur and earned the Sudanese government the condemnation of the United Nations.

The nine bodies buried had lain on the ground for more than a week before the Janjaweed finally left the village and the people who had escaped the killing felt brave enough to return.

There was still some flesh on the bones that the animals had picked over during the intervening eight days, but they were jumbled together, a skull here, a leg there.

The villagers gathered them together, dug a shallow pit and placed them in and covered them over.

The village lies about two kilometres from the town of Tawila in North Darfur, across a dusty desert plain studded with thorn bushes and, very occasionally, a tree or two. A low and rocky hill rises abruptly from the plain about half a kilometre away. There are no vehicle tracks leading to the village, just the hoof prints of animals which passed this way after the last rain. The hoof prints are now baked hard in the dirt.

A couple of women and three children trudge past, their possessions and a few sticks that will be their shelter tied to the backs of two donkeys, whose skeletal appearance suggests that they have not eaten for some time. The family has abandoned its home in one of the villages beyond the hill, too afraid of the Janjaweed who remain in the area to stay any longer. They are seeking refuge in Tawila, where they will join the hundreds who have camped themselves around the settlement in the hope of finding some security.

It was on 27 February that the Janjaweed rode into Nami. When the people in the village saw the Janjaweed coming, they fled, leaving everything they had behind them, desperate to put some distance, any distance, between themselves and the men on camels and horses who charged in, their AK47s and machine guns in their hands.

Once they had left, the Janjaweed took their animals and what possessions they wanted, and then set about burning down the huts. Most of the villagers got away, but not all.

Anoba Omer, 35 years old, was trying to get away with her children when the gunmen caught up with her. As she tried to stop them taking her animals, they shot her dead, in front of her four children. The children ran away.

Two more men died in the village, and there the body count might have ended, had not nine others decided to return to try to put out the fires. The Janjaweed found them sheltering from the sun under a tree on the way into the village, and beckoned them forward. Don’t worry, they told the men, we won’t harm you. You will be safe.

The men got up and walked to where the gunmen stood, a few yards closer to the village. The Janjaweed told them to lie on the ground.

The men were afraid, but they did what they were told.

The Janjaweed raised their guns and shot them where they lay.

Two managed to get to their feet and run, the gunmen firing after them, but the bullets missed. The others died where they lay.

Theirs are the bodies that lie in the grave outside the village: Adam Mousa Saleh, Mousa Hamed, Abdullah Adam Osman, Eisa Idris Abudel Moula, Ibrahim El Gazoli, Adam Hamid, Hamid Adam, Hosain Suleiman, Hasan Abdela Ali.

Adam Saleh reels off their names slowly, spelling them out carefully as he goes. He gets to eight, and hesitates, consulting his friend Yahir Suleiman Mohamed. They run through the names again, counting them out on their fingers, before, at last, Hasan’s name joins the list.

It is only the third time Adam has been back to the village. He finds the grave easily and stands looking at it. The bodies lay there for eight days, he says. They were left there in the open, then the people from the village came to bury them. The animals had got to them but they did what they could to collect up everything that was left.

The Janjaweed attacked from the east, he recalls, and everyone ran. No-one dared return until they were sure that the Janjaweed had left, although they knew they had not gone far.

Four of the people who died that day were his relatives. “The Janjaweed caught them and brought them to this place,” he says, pointing to the grave. He gestures to a tree about 20 yards away: “They were sitting there under that tree and the men told them to come over and lie on the ground. The Janjaweed told them it was safe but then they made them lie down. Then they shot them. They shot them all over their bodies.”

He knows this is what happened, he says, because the men who managed to run have told the people who returned to bury their dead what happened here.

Now, six months after that day, Adam is walking through the remains of the village. He stops at the house he once shared with his family.

It is too much for him; he crouches on the ground, his head in his hands, sobbing. The tears trickle down his face, cutting erratic paths through the fine layer of dust on his skin. He rocks backwards and forwards, now and then moving his hands from his face and gazing at the devastation that surrounds him. He stretches out his arms, imploringly, and starts to sob again. After a long while, he stops, and stands up slowly, and walks into the house.

There is little left of what was his home. A charred wooden lintel across the opening, the thin metal sheet that was the front door bent and buckled, scorched from the flames that consumed the thatched roof and everything inside. There are a couple of overturned pots and the detritus of a life that has gone up in flames.

It is the same in the other houses. More than 1,300 people lived in this village before the attack; now there is no-one. Their homes were built in the main from mud bricks topped off with straw thatched roofs. All that is left now are the round walls, scorched black from where the flames took hold. Of the roofs, there is nothing left.

Inside some of the houses are the frames of metal beds, their mattresses gone. There are cooking pots overturned outside and on the floors of some of the houses. Everywhere there are the charred remains of lives abandoned in panic. A shoe here, a piece of smashed glass there, the melted remnants of what was once a child’s flip flop lying among the thorn branches that litter the ground. Anything that would burn has been burned, anything of value stolen; the Janjaweed spent long enough around the village before setting it alight to take their pick of what they wanted.

Walking through it, Adam picks his way through the ash that covers the ground where the Janjaweed set light to the brushwood palisades and the store rooms built on stick frames. Of them, too, there is nothing left.

And this is not an isolated incident. What happened in Nami was repeated throughout Darfur. Around Tawila, there are scores of similar villages, some larger, some smaller, where the same scenes were played out. In the market place at Tawila, people clamour to tell the stories about what happened to them. From another village, another man tells of another nine deaths. These men, he says, had their wrists bound together before they were taken to a spot outside the village and shot.

And the Janjaweed are still around, the people say. Some live in a village nearby, and often come into the town to shop in the market, or to wander around, in their military uniforms.

A few days ago they shot a man in his car on the bridge over the dry wadi on the El Fashir side of the town. Alfadel Abdullah Nurain had refused to hand over the money he had in his pockets. It was a lot of money, and he would not let it go. They shot him several times, and left him to die. He bled to death before anyone could do anything to help him.

Everyone has heard stories of fresh attacks. People travel around this region, they move from market to market; they hear what has been going on, despite the Sudanese government’s protestations of innocence.

They have heard about the helicopter gunships that raked the market at Tabit 40km to the south, and of the people who died there.

They have also heard about the Antonovs and helicopters that attacked the rebels up north of Kuto at Araroro ten days ago, and the attack on the market at Abu Dilake last week that left four people dead when the Janjaweed and government soldiers fired on the people from all sides because they believed that there were rebels there.

Only on Monday the Janjaweed were in town; they rode in on their horses, their guns visible for all to see, wearing the uniforms of Sudanese soldiers that they have been given by the government.

They went into the police station to chat to the men there, and then emerged to shop in the market. They have told the people that they must not leave the town, that they must not return to their fields to cultivate their crops.

The people know what such threats mean. They have seen those guns that the Janjaweed carry in action. They have seen the bodies. They have placed them in the graves.

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