Years after militia raid, fear still grips Darfur village

A Sudanese woman carries her baby on her back as she works in the village of Shattaya in Darfur region, following her return home after over a decade of being displaced. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2019

Years after militia raid, fear still grips Darfur village

  • Villagers complain that armed men are still in the area, and that lands confiscated by Arab pastoralists have not been returned

SHATTAYA/SUDAN: Sudanese farmer Suleiman Yakub vividly remembers the day he was hung from a tree and left to die by militiamen who attacked his village in Darfur, killing, looting and burning.
“Villagers were executed in front of me,” said Yakub, 59, a resident of Shattaya village, which was attacked by the notorious Janjaweed militia in February 2004 when the conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur was at its peak.
“I was handcuffed and hung from a tree with a rope around my neck, but I survived,” he said, showing the scar on his neck. “We still don’t feel safe.”
The fighting in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s then government of now-ousted leader Omar Bashir, alleging racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, a group of mostly raiding nomads that it recruited and armed to create a militia of gunmen who were often mounted on horses or camels.
They have been accused of applying a scorched earth policy against ethnic groups suspected of supporting the rebels, raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
The campaign earned Bashir and others arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
About 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict, the UN says.
Thousands of peacekeeping troops from a joint UN-African Union mission were deployed in 2007 to curb the conflict, but their numbers have been gradually reduced since mid-2018 as the conflict has subsided.
Many Shattaya residents, like Yakub, have tentatively started to return to their homes, made of mud brick and thatch, after living in run-down camps for years.
Their village was one of those that faced the brunt of the attack unleashed by the Janjaweed in the early years of the conflict.
Residents say about 1,800 villagers were killed when gunmen on horses, camels and motorcycles tore through the village, firing guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
The Hague-based ICC has charged Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for abuses in Darfur, including for atrocities committed in Shattaya.
Bashir was ousted by his army in April after months of nationwide protests against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

NUMBER

300,000 - people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict that erupted in 2004.

But tensions remain over land ownership in Darfur, and those responsible for the war’s darkest years have not been brought to justice.
Sudan’s new authorities who came to power after Bashir’s overthrow have vowed to end the conflict in Darfur as well as in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
They are holding peace talks this week in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, with three rebel groups who fought Bashir’s forces in these regions.
After more than 15 years, the brutality unleashed on Shattaya, whose residents are mainly from the African Fur tribe, is still evident.
Most houses in Shattaya are severely damaged and charred, with residents who have returned living in make-shift shelters, an AFP correspondent who visited the village reported.
The road to Shattaya is unpaved and dusty, and riddled with pools of muddy water.
Villagers complain that armed men are still in the area, and that lands confiscated by Arab pastoralists have not been returned.
“We have not got back our farm,” said Mohamed Izhak, 29, who claims his family owned a lemon and orange orchard on the outskirts of the village.
Izhak returned to Shattaya last year, after living in a camp for years alongside tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict.
Izhak said his father, two brothers and three uncles were killed in the 2004 attack.
“We don’t feel safe, even now ... we are unable to build proper homes, we are living in small shelters made from plastic and dry grass.”
Hajj Abdelrahman, 63, lives in a room that survived the destruction of his home.
When he returned to Shattaya, he found pastoralists occupying his family’s farm.
“The farm is destroyed, they have cut the trees,” Abdelrahman told AFP, adding that he was wary of talking to the pastoralists “because they are armed.”
“They are not stealing our livestock anymore, but if they are not disarmed we will not feel fully secure. We also want our land back.”
Many villagers are planting vegetables just outside what is left of their houses, hoping that one day they will get their farms back.
“I have my farm outside the village, but I cannot go there because I don’t feel safe,” Siddiq Youssef told AFP.
“If those militiamen are not disarmed, then we can’t have peace. We are scared even now when we see them.”


Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

Updated 11 December 2019

Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

  • On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2
  • New elections would add to the political challenges facing Benjamin Netanyahu
JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament began rushing through a bill on Wednesday to call a third general election within a year as talks between embattled premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival broke down ahead of a midnight deadline.
A deal to avert a new election must be reached before 11:59 p.m. (2159 GMT), following a deadlocked vote in September.
But Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, both of whom have repeatedly failed to build a governing majority in the Knesset, or parliament, have spent days trading blame for failing coalition talks.
On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2.
It must face three more plenary readings and votes during the day before being passed.
New elections would add to the political challenges facing Netanyahu — Israel’s longest serving premier, now governing in a caretaker capacity — at a time when, weakened by corruption charges, he must fend off internal challengers in his right-wing Likud party.
Netanyahu and Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, had been discussing a potential unity government, but disagreed on who should lead it.
Last month, when Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges, Gantz called on him to step down.
On Tuesday night Netanyahu called on Gantz to stop “spinning.”
“After 80 days, it’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government. It’s not too late,” he said on social media.
Gantz said his party was making “efforts to find a way to form a government without us giving up the fundamental principles that brought us into politics.”
If confirmed, it would be the first time Israel’s weary electorate has been asked to go to the polls for a third time within 12 months.
The parties of Netanyahu and Gantz were nearly deadlocked in September’s election, following a similarly inconclusive poll in April.
Israel’s proportional system is reliant on coalition building, and both parties fell well short of the 61 seats needed to command a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Both were then given 28-day periods to try and forge a workable coalition but failed, forcing President Reuven Rivlin to turn to parliament with his deadline for Wednesday.
New elections are deeply unpopular with the Israeli public, which has expressed mounting anger and frustration with the entire political class.
Both parties had been trying to convince Avigdor Lieberman, a crucial kingmaker, to join their blocs.
But the former nightclub bouncer, whose secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party holds the balance of power, has refused.
Kann Radio reported Tuesday that Netanyahu had abandoned hopes of earning Lieberman’s endorsement.
Lieberman pointed out that Likud and Blue and White wouldn’t need his support if they could agree to work together.
“If during the next 24 hours a government is not formed it will be solely because the leaders of the two big parties — Likud and Blue and White — were not willing to set aside their egos,” he said on Facebook Tuesday.
“All the rest is lies and excuses.”
Netanyahu was indicted last month for bribery, breach of trust and fraud relating to three separate corruption cases.
He strongly denies the allegations and accuses the media, police and prosecution of a witch-hunt.
No date has yet been set for the beginning of the proceedings and, under Israeli law, Netanyahu can remain in office despite an indictment.
He also faces a potential challenge from within his own Likud party.
To boost his support, Netanyahu has pushed his plan to annex a strategic part of the occupied West Bank, as well as signing a defense treaty with the United States.
He is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, who has taken a number of controversial steps in support of Netanyahu’s agenda.
Blue and White, meanwhile, pledged Monday to run with only one leader in the next election — Gantz.
Previously Yair Lapid, second in command in the coalition, was meant to alternate the premiership, but on Monday Lapid said: “We’ll all get behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister.”
Despite Netanyahu’s indictment, polls suggest that a third round of elections could still be neck and neck — prompting some Israelis to speculate about yet another electoral stalemate.
A commentary writer for the Israel Hayom newspaper suggested that “a fourth election is even now visible on the horizon sometime in early September 2020.”