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.

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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.”


Reza Pahlavi, son of Iran’s last shah, says regime is cracking from within

Updated 26 January 2020

Reza Pahlavi, son of Iran’s last shah, says regime is cracking from within

  • ahlavi strongly backed the US drone strike that killed the powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani
  • "How long can it possibly be sustained?”

LONDON: The former crown prince of Iran says the regime is cracking from within under the pressure of a wave of fresh protests.

Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last shah, was just 17 when he fled into exile with his family during the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the monarchy.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, he said the demonstrations, which have included chants for the royal family to return, show that the current regime may be coming to an end.

“The cracking from within of the system is getting more and more obvious,” he said. “When you look at the circumstances in Iran today, put yourselves in the shoes of the worst-off — how long can it possibly be sustained?”

The protests intensified in November after an increase in fuel prices. Vast crowds demonstrated in cities across the country before the regime cut the internet and killed hundreds of people in a brutal crackdown.

Large numbers returned to the streets this month, angered by the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet by the Iranian military, and Tehran’s initial insistence that it was an accident.

“The protests are very pervasive, in many sectors of society,” Pahlavi, 59, said in Washington where he lives. “They are all over the country. And a new development we haven’t seen before: the so-called silent middle class, which until now were not taking positions, are beginning to speak out.

“I’m not saying this is a guaranteed collapse. But the ingredients that get us closer to that point seem to be more prevailing these days than ever before.”

Pahlavi said he no longer has any desire to return to the throne, despite once being a rallying point for opposition groups after his father died in 1980.

However, he said he believed there could be a new Iran after the fall of the clerical regime and that his role could be as a go-between for the Iranian diaspora, foreign governments and opposition groups inside Iran.

“To the extent that there is a name recognition, I can utilise that,” he said. “I have no ambition of any kind of role or function or title. I’d like to be an advocate for the people. I don’t let any of this go to my head, I’ve been around too long for that.”

Pahlavi strongly backed the US drone strike that killed the powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani “as a breakthrough that is positive for the region.”

He also backs the punishing US sanctions introduced when Washington withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

He said he hopes one day to be able to return to his homeland.

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