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'Why Does the War Keep Chasing Us?'

Sudan's Dinkas, Displaced by Past Conflict, Fear Violence in Darfur

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 19, 2004; Page A01

BELIEL CAMP, Sudan -- Dinka men once danced in a green field here in Darfur. A weave of drum rhythms would rise with the smoke of their twilight bonfires. The men would form a tight line with their spears, honoring their lost homeland in war-scattered southern Sudan and chanting praise for the peace they had found as refugees.

Now, come nightfall, the camp is silent. No more dancing, no more music, nothing to celebrate. The towering Dinkas now find themselves strangers in the middle of Sudan's latest war.


Peter Bak Mrach's daughters were born in a refugee camp for Dinkas in Darfur. Now the family fears Sudan's latest war will again force them to flee. (Emily Wax -- The Washington Post)

_____Crisis in Sudan_____
Washington Post correspondent Emily Wax chronicles the genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
Sudan's Ragtag Rebels (The Washington Post, Sep 7, 2004)
Wells of Life Run Dry for Sudanese (The Washington Post, Aug 22, 2004)
Targeting the Teachers of Darfur (The Washington Post, Aug 18, 2004)
In Sudan, 'a Big Sheik' Roams Free (The Washington Post, Jul 18, 2004)
Refugees Moved Before Annan Visit (The Washington Post, Jul 2, 2004)
'We Want to Make a Light Baby' (The Washington Post, Jun 30, 2004)
In Sudan, Death and Denial (The Washington Post, Jun 27, 2004)
Chad Broken by Strain of Suffering (The Washington Post, Mar 11, 2004)
Bittersweet Homecomings in War-Weary Sudan (The Washington Post, Jan 5, 2004)

Squatting on a mud floor, Peter Bak Mrach squeezed into his dank shelter with his wife and children. He now lives in fear that government-backed militia fighters, known as the Janjaweed, will attack the camp where he and thousands of Dinkas have lived peacefully for the last two decades.

The peace these Dinkas once praised in Darfur has long been erased. Beliel is less than five miles from a newer camp, Kalma, where about 70,000 other refugees have built row after row of shelters patched together from twigs, plastic sheeting and rags, just as many Dinkas did years ago. Like the war in the south that expelled the Dinkas, the conflict in Darfur has left a parade of human suffering, with 1.5 million driven from their homes, and tens of thousands dead.

"Sudan's wars are chasing each other now," said Mrach, 35, who had yellowing, cloudy eyes and spoke in hushed tones. "The same thing that made me leave the south so long ago has happened again in Darfur."

The story of how two camps from Sudan's separate wars wound up as neighbors highlights the fragility of Africa's largest nation. Conflicts between the central government and rebel groups in the south and the west have made Sudan a country unified only on maps.

The war in the south, which has lasted 21 years, has caused the deaths of 2.2 million people and has displaced 4.5 million more. After a long delay, peace talks between the government in Khartoum, the capital, and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army resumed last week in Naivasha, Kenya. In a tentative peace deal, the government agreed to share oil wealth and to allow regional autonomy, including a referendum on secession in six years.

The negotiations between the Islamic and Arab government and Christian and animist tribes in southern Sudan could be a model for resolving other conflicts in the country, some analysts said. The government, which came to power in a 1989 coup, has been accused of concentrating development and slowly rising oil wealth in Khartoum.

"The road to peace in Darfur is through the north-south peace agreement," said Charles R. Snyder, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, who visited Khartoum last month to push for an agreement. "We have to remember there is a bigger Sudan, where a bigger war took place. But there are worries that what is happening in Darfur will distract from the larger peace."

Witnessing a Reenactment

The trauma of Darfur has reminded Mrach of the atrocities that his Dinka community once suffered: the raiding of cattle, raping of women and burning of huts. Such tactics are nothing new in Sudan, he said. It was like watching a reenactment of the chaos that overran his village of mud huts in Bahr el-Gazal in southern Sudan in 1988.

He was 16 when men on horses came to his village, he said. They were local militiamen armed by the government. After a rebel attack in the area, the government had provided automatic weapons to Arabs of the Baggara tribe and encouraged raids on Dinka villages, according to human rights reports at the time.

The government-backed fighters were known as Muraheleen, and they were the forebears of the Janjaweed who terrorize Darfur today.

Just as in Darfur, militiamen stole the Mrach family's cattle and burned their homes. Women were taken as "wives," Mrach said, whispering that they were held and raped and some were never seen again.

Mrach's family walked with thousands of other Dinkas through the bush, along the railway line and into Darfur, where 17 camps are now home to 53,000 Dinkas.


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