Violence in Darfur Spreading Across the Border Into Chad
By Lydia Polgreen
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The chaos in Darfur, the war-ravaged region in Sudan where more than 200,000 civilians have been killed, has spread across the border into Chad, deepening one of the world’s worst refugee crises.
Arab gunmen from Darfur have pushed across the desert and entered Chad, stealing cattle, burning crops and killing anyone who resists. The lawlessness has driven at least 20,000 Chadians from their homes, turning them into refugees in their own country.
Hundreds of thousands more people in this area, along with 200,000 Sudanese who fled here for safety, now find themselves caught up in a growing conflict between Chad and Sudan, two nations with a long history of violence and meddling in each other’s affairs.
“You may have thought the terrible situation in Darfur couldn’t get worse, but it has,” Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in a recent statement. “Sudan’s policy of arming militias and letting them loose is spilling over the border, and civilians have no protection from their attacks, in Darfur or in Chad.”
Indeed, the accounts of civilians in parts of eastern Chad are agonizingly familiar to those in western Sudan. One woman, Zahara Isaac Mahamat, described how Arab men on camels and horses had raided her village in Chad, stealing everything they could find and slaughtering all who resisted.
The dead included her husband, Ismail Ibrahim, who tried to prevent the raiders from burning his sorghum and millet fields. Like so many others in this desolate expanse of dust-choked earth, she fled west with her three children, much as people in Darfur have been forced to do in recent years.
“I have lost everything but my children,” she said, her face looking much older than her 20 years. She is now a refugee, with thousands of other displaced Chadians, in Kolloye, a village south of here. “We have three bowls of grain left,” she said. “When that is gone, only God can help us.”
The spreading chaos is a result of two closely connected conflicts in the neighboring countries.
In Darfur, rebels have been battling government forces and the janjaweed, Arab militias aligned with the government, in a campaign of terror that the Bush administration has called genocide.
The U.N Security Council has agreed to send troops to protect civilians, but they will take months to arrive. In the meantime, President Bush has said, NATO should help shore up a failing African Union peacekeeping mission there, but a surge of violence has chased tens of thousands of people from their homes in recent weeks.
In Chad, the government is fighting its own war against rebels based in Sudan and bent on removing Chad’s ailing president, Idriss Deby, from power.
The rebels include disgruntled soldiers who defected and tribes tired of being ruled by members of the president’s tribe, the Zaghawa, who represent just a small percentage of the population but have long dominated politics and the military.
In a sign of how inseparable the two conflicts have become, Deby has accused Sudan of supporting the rebellion against his government, and Sudan has long suspected members of Deby’s family of supporting Zaghawa-led rebels in Darfur.