Revelations by Human Rights Watch May 26 that Darfur’s Janjaweed have overrun villages in Chad. The rapidly shifting alliances are dizzying here. On the face of it, this is simple: Chad’s government has backed the Darfur guerillas and this is simple retaliation by Khartoum’s proxy force. Except (as we have noted), Chad’s government is now divided, with rival factions of the ruling Zaghawa tribe in a violent struggle for power. The faction around President Idriss Deby accuses Sudan of supporting his enemies and is demonizing Sudanese refugees in Chad as subversives—even though they were cleansed from their lands by the Janjaweed, Sudan’s proxy force. Meanwhile (as we have also noted), the Darfur rebels have also split, between factions led by the Fur and Zaghawa ethnicities. The Zaghawa-led faction is presumably closer to Chad—but to which faction in Chad? And does the report of “Chadian recruits” working with the Janjaweed indicate that Khartoum and its proxy force have made an alliance with the Zaghawa-led guerillas in both Darfur and Chad against the Fur and the rival (ruling) Chadian Zaghawa faction? HRW duly notes the claim—universal throughout the Darfur crisis—that this is just tit-for-tat violence over stolen cattle. This may, in fact, be the immediate and ostensible spark for the attacks. But, especially given the oil stakes in Chad, it is pretty disingenuous to argue that this war is about cattle-rustling.
Chad: Sudanese Militia Massacre Chadian Civilians
More Than 100 People Killed in Recent Attacks in Eastern Chad
Sudanese “Janjaweed” militias along with local Chadian recruits massacred more than 100 people in a cluster of villages in eastern Chad, Human Rights Watch has discovered.
Witnesses showed Human Rights Watch researchers one of the massacre sites in four adjacent villages approximately 70 kilometers west of the Sudan border, and confirmed that a total of 118 people were killed on April 12 and 13, a period when Chadian rebel groups based in Darfur were pursuing a westward offensive on the Chadian capital, N’djamena.
“Sudanese militiamen are moving further and further into Chad and are looting and killing Chadian villagers,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch. “Many of the attackers wore Sudanese uniforms but they’ve formed local alliances, and Chadians are also participating in the attacks.”
Survivors described unarmed villagers being surrounded and then gunned down or hacked to death with machetes by militiamen wearing blue Sudanese military fatigues and turbans. Witnesses described their attackers as Janjaweed and noted that Chadians who had recently migrated to Sudan were among them.
The recent militia attacks in Chad seem to be part of a wider pattern of cross-border violence that Human Rights Watch has documented over the past year, during which time the Sudanese state of West Darfur, which borders Chad for more than 500 kilometers, has become increasingly volatile. More than a dozen armed groups, including four factions of the Darfur rebel movements, several Sudanese government-backed militias, and Chadian rebel groups are active along the porous border. Livestock raiding has become common, but the April attacks on the four Chadian villages were unusual for the high number of deaths.
“There are still many unanswered questions about these attacks, but the conclusion is clear: Chadian civilians are in dire need of protection,” said Takirambudde.
Human Rights Watch researchers who visited the site of the attacks in May collected numerous accounts from eyewitnesses.
The April 13 violence was concentrated in the eastern Chadian village of Djawara, where 75 people were reported to have been killed within just a few hours. When Human Rights Watch researchers visited Djawara in early May, they found more than a dozen dried pools of blood staining the ground in a grove of trees and scrub brush approximately 500 meters west of the village, where villagers had gathered to pray at the time of the attack. The area was littered with bullet casings, rifle magazines, articles of clothing, and amulets commonly worn as protection against bullets.
Local villagers showed Human Rights Watch six mass graves nearby where they said they had buried a total of 25 people. Another 12 bodies had been dragged into a ditch and partially covered with straw mats, and one decomposing body was found at the foot of a nearby tree. Another 37 men were reportedly killed elsewhere in the village.
Between April 12 and April 13, Janjaweed militias reportedly attacked three other villages in the vicinity, Gimeze, Singatao, and Korkosanyo, killing 43 people. Human Rights Watch researchers were not able to visit these three villages at any length due to continuing insecurity in the region. However, reports that Singatao had been partially burned were confirmed, and Singatao, Djawara, and Gimeze were abandoned.
A burial party of local villagers returned to Djawara on April 23, but they came under fire from unknown assailants before they could finish burying the dead.
Villagers in Djawara reported that a few days before the attack, Janjaweed “emissaries” warned that an attack was imminent and many women and children were sent to a nearby village. Arrows found among the bullet casings in Djawara suggest that local villagers fought their attackers with primitive weapons. Members of a village self-defense group confirmed that they fought back when their village was attacked, mostly with bows and arrows and machetes, although a few had automatic weapons. After a brief skirmish, the village self-defense group collapsed, and 75 villagers were shot or hacked to death.
While cattle theft is widely presumed to be the primary motive for militia raids into Chad, the Djawara massacre may have been retribution for an earlier incident in which the village self-defense group tried to retrieve stolen cattle. Dozens of people were reportedly killed in September around Modoyna, 60 kilometers north of Djawara, after villagers attempted to recover cattle that had been stolen by a Sudanese militia. Local sources placed the death toll in the September attacks at anywhere from 53 to 72 civilians; most media reports counted 36 dead.
Accounts from Djawara (pseudonyms used):
“They came on horses and on foot…. The Janjaweed who entered the village began to shoot at us. We defended as much as we could. We only had four Kalashnikovs [assault rifles] and arrows. They were too numerous and we were quickly overwhelmed. The Janjaweed kept shooting, looting, and destroying.”
— Ibrahim, 45-year-old villager from Djawara
“I ran away but I was caught with others by a group of Janjaweed…. I was with 10 of my fellow villagers. They tried to kill us with machetes and knives. I was hit on the head…. And then, the guy took his Kalashnikov and shot. Everybody collapsed. I was shot in the arm, and I fell down. After the shooting, the Janjaweed checked if we were dead. I pretended to be dead and didn’t move. After a few minutes they left the place.”
— Abdul, 45-year-old villager from Djawara
“When people were hit by bullets during the attack and were falling on the ground, I saw eight or 10 people rushing at them and finishing them off with machetes. I saw that more than 10 times. Sometimes it was five or eight or 10 people rushing at them. People who did that were mixed [wore mixed clothing], military outfits or civilian clothes. There was a lot of noise during the attack: gunshots, yells…. The assailants yelled things like: ‘Right here! right there! They are escaping that way!’ or ‘We have to kill them!’ or ‘Djaoub al nubia!’ [Kill the Nuba!].”
— Osman, 20-year-old villager from Djawara
The Nuba Survival website indicates that the Nuba, like the Fur, are a sedentary, agricultural Black African people caught between the Arab-dominated state of Sudan and the (currently) Zaghawa-led state of Chad.
See our last post on the Darfur crisis.