Wed, Sep 01, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Darfur refugees wait for security ... and wait


The old man sitting on the ground outside a makeshift shelter in the Zamzam camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Darfur's western Darfur region scratched the earth with a stone as he considered returning to his village.

"It depends on the security situation there," Yacoub Ismail Yacoub, 76, said finally. "We have suffered enough and we won't return until there is security."

Yacoub and some 14,000 other people who fled villages surrounding el-Fashir, the capital of North Darfur State, have been camped here for more than six months.

Many of them say they would be happy to return to their homes, but feel it is still not safe despite government assurances.

"It is still not safe to return," agreed Ahmed Idris, 48, who hails from Tabit village. "I do not believe the situation has improved."

Most of the people in this camp have not returned to their villages since they were forced to flee a heavy government crackdown on rebels, including air strikes and raids by pro-government Arab Janjaweed militias.

Some witnessed the brutal murders of their fathers, uncles or brothers and the raping of their daughters and saw their villages burned to the ground and meagre belongings stolen.

"They murdered my brother," said Zahra Ali, as she breast fed her seventh child, born in the camp.

She said she would return to her village only if her husband said it was safe. But her husband is not convinced.

IDPs in the camps say that many of those who left the camps, lured by government promises of either money or other benefits, returned almost immediately.

"The government says it's safe in the villages and that we can return, but I think it is safer here," Idris said.

Zamzam is one of 11 areas the government said it would secure for the IDPs by the end of the month, when UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reports to the Security Council on the extent of Khartoum's cooperation with a resolution on Darfur.

A few months ago there was no security presence at the camp.

Under pressure from the international community, Sudan deployed thousands of police in the region. Forty of them were sent to Zamzam camp.

Ten days ago, after the government presented the list of the sites to be secured, it boosted the size of the police force in and around the camp to about 100 and placed them under the command of a major.

"Thirty of them are based north of the camp and another 30 on the southern outskirts of the settlement," said Abdallah, an officer at the camp.

"There have been no incidents since the deployments," the officer, who would not give his second name, added.

Idris agreed: "This place is safe."

But not before the arrival on the scene of the police, according to Yacoub.

He cited one raid by suspected janjaweed militiamen in which they killed one man and escaped with a number of animals, including donkeys and cattle.

International aid agencies acknowledge that the government has made some effort to secure the camps.

But they say the IDPs are vulnerable to attacks outside the camps, especially when they go out to gather firewood or animal feed.

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