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In Divided Darfur, a Shared Will to Fight

'These Were My Brothers'

Sudan Liberation Army rebels fill a truck in the town of Muhajara, where civilians were recently attacked by government-allied Janjaweed militiamen.
Sudan Liberation Army rebels fill a truck in the town of Muhajara, where civilians were recently attacked by government-allied Janjaweed militiamen. (By Emily Wax -- The Washington Post)

Amid the amulet pouches hanging from Tarjab Jalab's belt loop is a Thuraya satellite phone in a small leather case. In theory, the commander in Muhajara uses it to communicate with the Sudan Liberation Army's higher-ups in Chad, Europe and Eritrea.

Jalab said that lately, though, he had been the one who decided whether his men should fight or not. The rebel structure has become so divided and disorganized that field commanders launch their own battles, and sporadic peace talks among their leaders have been increasingly irrelevant.

Four civilians in Muhajara were badly injured recently when Janjaweed fighters attacked them, according to victims and aid workers. Without waiting for orders from above, Jalab launched a counterattack, raiding the militia's cattle.

One of Jalab's friends, a rebel commander named Tangdin Mursal, said he felt both experienced enough and bitter enough to keep fighting on his own. Like Jalab, Mursal said he had spent years in the national army before joining the rebels, but had deserted when he heard that troubles were starting in Darfur. After government troops attacked his home area, he joined the other side.

"These were my brothers getting killed," said Mursal, 32, who was wearing jeans and an old Sudanese army shirt. "If anyone had seen what happened, they would have joined the SLA," he said. "I am willing to die. We would be fools to stop our guns. We will be fighting in our grandfathers' names."

Like Jalab, Mursal and his family once lived in a bucolic, wealthy area of Darfur. They owned several compounds of stone huts and hundreds of cattle and goats. When the war came, the livestock was looted and his wife and children were forced to flee to a refugee camp across the border in Chad.

"There is something in this world called revenge," Mursal said. "It's not going to be easy to bring peace to Darfur."

In a sweltering clinic across town, a 25-year-old man lay in a hospital cot with a bullet wound in his chest. Three others sweated and groaned on metal cots, all with wounds from a recent attack.

The victims said 15 foot soldiers in army uniforms had suddenly appeared, shooting at residents and stealing as much livestock as they could before vanishing into the bush.

Hamida Abdullah, 19, the sister of one of the wounded men, sat slumped next to his cot, cradling a screaming infant. She said she missed farming and felt depressed. She said she feared that Darfur would never find peace.

"We are still killing each other. We want more justice," she said, trying to hush the baby. "Our people still suffer. We just want it to all end."


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