Farmer Abbas Abdullah was among hundreds who had trickled back to his remote village in South Darfur nearly a decade after fleeing war there. Now, he thinks he rushed the decision.
Abdullah, from the Bergid ethnic minority, was attacked last week by Arab nomads on horses and camels at his farm in the village of Hamada, hundreds of kilometres west of the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
“They whipped me and forced me to stand under the scorching sun from the morning until sunset,” said the 80-year-old, outside his hut in the village.
“They then allowed their livestock to graze on my crops. It was all destroyed.”
The assault, he said, was grimly reminiscent of the 2003 Darfur conflict in which now-ousted president Omar al-Bashir unleashed Arab militias against marginalised ethnic African minorities following an uprising against his rule.
In 2005, Hamada was raided by the notorious government-backed Janjaweed, who slaughtered cattle, burned farms and forced the village’s 3,000 residents to seek refuge in grim displacement camps.
Abdullah only returned to the village in 2016 after the conflict had largely subsided and a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission UNAMID had launched regular patrols in the vast, arid region.
He has since resumed growing oranges, mangoes and vegetables, despite periodic clashes with Arab tribes over livestock and access to water.
Things took a turn for the worse with last month’s tribal clashes in West and South Darfur, which left some 250 people dead.
The clashes coincided with the end of UNAMID’s mandate in Darfur on December 31.
– ‘Too scared’ –
Like Abdullah, many of the 700 villagers who returned to Hamada in recent years have complained of an uptick in attacks.
Farmer Mohamed Adam says armed Arab nomads have increasingly destroyed crops in his farm.
Another resident Khadija Bekhit, who regularly leaves the village to collect firewood for cooking, said she gets stopped by Arab militias more than before.
Inter-communal violence in Darfur has often been associated with livestock and access to precious water resources ASHRAF SHAZLY, AFP
“They beat us or hold us captive for hours,” she said angrily.
Villagers say they had hoped to turn a page on ethnic violence following Bashir’s April 2019 ouster following mass protests against his rule.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over war crimes and crimes against humanity over his role in the Darfur conflict, which killed some 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN.
The civilian-majority post-Bashir transitional government agreed last year that he should stand trial before the ICC.
It also signed a landmark peace deal in October with the main rebel groups.
Following the recent violence, the government dispatched troops and police around the region.
But in Hamada, villagers say authorities have done little to prevent violence.
“There are only four policemen in our village and they don’t even have a car to pursue attackers,” said Adam.
Bergid tribal leader Abdullah Mohamed fears the upsurge in attacks could prevent residents returning after years of displacement.
“They are still too scared of the armed Arab militias who come on camels and horses to beat farmers and destroy their crops,” he said.
“They are less likely to return to the village now.”