Home | News    Thursday 12 July 2007

Chad Arabs also victims in tit-for-tat violence

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July 11, 2007 (GOZ AMIR, Chad) — The sight that greets visitors to Goz Amir is grimly familiar in eastern Chad.

Every single house has been burnt to the ground, giant clay urns used as grain stores are smashed, charred grass marks where homes once stood. It is completely deserted.

Like other villages in this Dar Sila district that borders Sudan’s violent Darfur region, Goz Amir was destroyed during a wave of inter-ethnic fighting since last year that has made east Chad a macabre mirror of the neighbouring Sudanese conflict.

But there is one difference.

While most attacks against settlements and civilians in this desolate region have been carried out by Arabs — whether Janjaweed raiders from across the border or Chadian Arabs raiding their African neighbours — Goz Amir is an Arab village.

It was destroyed, eyewitnesses say, by African ’Toroboro’ militia, part of a tit-for-tat cycle of violence that has turned this racially mixed territory, where tribes and clans follow a tough warrior’s tradition, into a regional tinderbox.

"We grabbed our children and ran to get away from the bullets and missiles which were flying everywhere. There was no warning," Kaltouma Mahamat, a local resident who witnessed the attack on Goz Amir in December, told Reuters.

Asked who was behind the raid, Mahamat replied: "The ’Toroboro’. ... We Arabs here are the innocents."

Local Arabs say several of their villages have now been razed by the non-Arab militia and they say persecution and harassment are increasingly part of their day-to-day lives.

Just a few kilometres (miles) from Goz Amir, lies another Arab village called Aradib, a picturesque grouping of small thatched huts dotted between palm trees.

But village chief Zakaria Yacoub says life has become difficult after non-Arab neighbours accused his people of collaborating with Janjaweed raiders over the last year.

"We went to the authorities to explain we are innocent," he said. "But because we’re Arabs, we were still accused of being guides for the Janjaweed.

"WE ARE GOOD MUSLIMS"

"Even today people call us the Janjaweed. They won’t say it to our faces, but when our backs are turned they call after us.

"This really hurts us," he added. "We want good relations with our neighbours. We are good Muslims and even the Koran says we should not kill people for no reason."

Villagers in Aradib are in an unusual position: their village sits right next to a camp for Sudanese refugees from Darfur, as well as several camps housing displaced Chadians.

It is ironic that the mass population displacement caused by the inter-ethnic violence has actually pushed the opposing communities physically closer together.

But tensions are running high.

"We used to be like brothers with the African tribes, but since they’ve arrived in the camps this is not so," said Kaltouma Ibrahim, a young mother in Aradib.

Local Arabs downplay the fact that some Chadian Arabs have been involved in brutal raids on their African neighbours in the region. But now Arab communities have also become refugees too.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR is investigating the arrival of between 20,000 and 30,000 Chadian Arabs who have crossed into west Darfur in the past few months. They claim refugee status.

"There are indications of massive movements of Arab Chadians into neighbouring Darfur in Sudan," UNHCR’S Samuel Boutruche said. He and other observers hope a recent peace deal signed between Dajo (African) and Arab leaders in Dar Sila may help to ease the raw antagonisms.

"But on an everyday basis there is still a long way to go before people learn to live together again," Boutruche said.

(Reuters)

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