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Darfur: Arrested Development -- 30,000 People Displaced in February

Contact: Ms. Callie Long, Communications Officer, Action by Churches Together International, +41 22 791 6039, +41 79 358 3171 cell,


GENEVA, Mar. 28 /Standard Newswire/ -- 2007 has seen intensified fighting in Darfur. An additional 30,000 people were displaced in February alone, bringing the total number of people that have fled the ongoing violence since the beginning of the year to 80,000.(1) ACT-Caritas, with the support of PWS&D, continues to provide basic shelter, household items, clean water, latrines, primary health care and education to the displaced.


In January 2007, tired of the harassment, lack of security and poor conditions in general, several families from villages in the area of Abata managed to reach Zalingei camp where ACT-Caritas is working. ACT-Caritas provided blankets, wash basins, plates, soap and cooking sets as part of a coordinated inter-agency effort to assist the new arrivals. Charlotte Brudenell of ACT-Caritas journeyed to Abata to see what they left behind.


A sand track leads north from Zalingei to the village of Abata, but these days few people travel along it.


The track is flanked by tall acacia trees, and every so often it cuts through a group of deserted, roofless shells of buildings.


"I lived here for one year," says Awadulla, the driver, as we pass through Boulle, a village halfway between Zalingei and Abata. "Over there, eighty-five people died, thirty of them women. The Janjaweed started shooting from here, on the edge of the village."


The large tobacco factory, school, shops, and homes have all been destroyed and abandoned. The countryside is silent. Where there were once villages, only the wind speaks through the trees. Apart from a group of grazing camels and their four young herders, there is not a soul to be seen.


The Sudanese government stands accused of using militias, hailing from Arab tribes in the region known as Janjaweed, as a proxy force to brutally put down what it labelled a rebellion in Darfur by tribes of black African origin, who complained of decades of neglect from the central government in Khartoum.


The people of Abata no longer travel to Zalingei. They cannot. The men cannot even go to the fields. The village is their prison.


Armed militias prevent them from leaving and tax the villagers for providing a kind of 'protection' against attacks from other armed groups. It is also reported that checkpoints have recently been set up to stop people from moving from one place to another.


The armed groups also harass and intimidate. "Those with arms can do what they want to others," says Mohammed, the sheikh of Abata. "If you are wearing good clothes or have any money on you, they will take them from you. They let their animals destroy your crops, and you cannot say anything. They can beat you or shoot you. The police cannot even do anything."


The people of Abata are predominantly farmers. Their crops, which the armed groups need to sustain themselves, are one of the reasons they are being forced to stay in the village. Unable to reach any other market, the villagers have no option but to sell to their captors.


"We cannot go outside to get work nor sell our crops in other markets," explains Mohammed. "As a result the whole economy of the village has been affected by the conflict."


Because of the lack of security, few aid agencies have managed to provide humanitarian assistance to Abata and other communities in the area in similar circumstances. The need for peace – for these people – grows ever more desperate.


Note: (1) United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Sudan Humanitarian Overview, 1 February – 28 February 2007. Volume 3, Issue 2.