In remote Sudan, the Darfur war remains present

The Darfur genocide in Sudan received widespread media coverage across the world and led to the arrest of the country’s former leader, Omar al Bashir. Traveling by car, by donkey, and on foot, Special Correspondent Benedict Moran and video journalist Jorgen Samso visited a rebel stronghold in Darfur’s remote Jebel Marra mountains. There, they found rebels unwilling to put down their guns, and isolated communities for whom the war has never ended.

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  • Michael Hill:

    Fifteen years ago, the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region received widespread media coverage, both in the United States and around the world.

    Today, the conflict there is largely forgotten. Sudan's former leader, Omar al Bashir, who was accused of orchestrating the genocide, is now behind bars, but the situation on the ground remains unchanged for millions of Darfur's victims.

    Traveling by car, by donkey, and on foot, PBS NewsHour Special Correspondent Benedict Moran and video journalist Jorgen Samso visited a rebel stronghold in Darfur's remote Jebel Marra mountains. There, they found rebels unwilling to put down their guns, and isolated communities for whom the war has never ended.

  • Benedict Moran:

    For these rebel fighters in the Sudanese region of Darfur, the war against the capital is far from over.

  • Military Leader:

    (singing) Please give us guns to shoot and destroy Khartoum.

  • Benedict Moran:

    This is Torong Tonga, headquarters of the Sudanese Liberation Army. The rebel group has been fighting Sudan's central government for nearly two decades

    These fighters are doing daily drills of marching,

    And dancing in a routine that prepares civilians to become rebel soldiers.

  • Saleh Ismail:

    Participants come here because they believe in the movement, and have the same principles as the movement. We'll spend 9 months with them, then they'll be ready for battle.

  • Benedict Moran:

    The first battle was fought in 2003, when the S-L-A launched a rebellion against Sudan's central government,

    They were protesting discrimination and neglect. Omar al Bashir, then Sudan's President, responded with brutal force, sending local Arab militias known as janjaweed to attack civilians.

    The violence killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions, in what the International Criminal Court allege was ethnic cleansing and genocide.

    In 2019, a popular uprising in Sudan's capital Khartoum forced out Omar al Bashir. He's now in jail.

    He's been replaced by a transitional government, which has signed peace deals with two of Darfur's major rebel groups. But these fighters have refused to sign. They say, the mistrust runs too deep.

    The Sudanese Liberation Army and the Sudanese government have not fought a major battle since 2019. But these soldiers are not ready to put down their arms.

    22-year-old Maryam Saleh Adam Abdallah joined the S.L.A. three years ago.

    She did so, she says, to avenge her father, who was killed by the janjaweed.

  • Mariam Saleh Abdullah:

    The government deceived us, they made us flee from our lands. We knew with time that they have no principles. Whenever we move, we are raped, and we are killed. That's why we came here.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Torong Tonga is high up on Jebel Marra, an ancient, dormant volcano that rises nearly 10,000 feet above the desert.

    The mountain is surrounded by destroyed and emptied villages, evidence of nearly two decades of war. SLA rebels blew up the roads that go up the mountain long ago. Today, the only way in is by foot, camel, or donkey.

    So, we've been on a donkey for six to seven hours. We're approaching SLA headquarters. It's extremely remote, there are no roads anywhere near here.

    Unlike the rest of Darfur, this area is lush. Water is plentiful from both rainfall and the mountain's spring-fed rivers. Enough for apples, oranges, and grapefruit to grow in abundance. But there are few schools. Healthcare is nearly nonexistent.

    Anna Bylund works with the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders.

  • Anne Bylund:

    This area has zero health coverage and it's been neglected for a very long time. Because of the conflict, no NGOs or other actors have had access.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Until Bylund opens up a new clinic that would provide a baseline of medical services in Torong Tonga later this year,

    Ismail Moussa Ibrahim is the only medical worker for the area's 11,000 people,

    operating in this simple mud hut, treating up to 80 people a day, doing everything from a check up to amputations, using simple, even medieval, instruments.

    He's saying, sometimes I have to use this hacksaw to cut off legs and hands.

    Like many rebels here, Ibrahim says he experienced the disenfranchisement that was commonplace under the former government.

  • Ismail Moussa Ibrahim:

    The main reason I joined the rebellion is because of the lack of education. There were no facilities where we could study. Then the government came to destroy our village. There were no peaceful areas to go and study in.

  • Benedict Moran:

    His village was destroyed in the widespread ethnic cleansing that occurred earlier in the war.

  • Ismail Moussa Ibrahim:

    The last time I saw my village was 20 years ago. I don't even know where it is exactly. But it's been wiped off the map, destroyed.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Though they haven't signed the peace deal, these rebels are currently negotiating with Sudan's central government. But they say they are far from an agreement.

    Abdulgadir Abdulrahman Ibrahim is the Sudan Liberation Army's head commander.

  • Abdulgadir Abdulrahman Ibrahim:

    All the armed movements that signed the incomplete peace agreement were not looking to help the needs of the vulnerable. They were acting in their own self interest, to fill their own pockets.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Ibrahim says Sudan's old military—including elements that are implicated in war crimes in Darfur—still hold too much sway in the new government.

    He points to General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known by the name

    "Hemeti," perhaps the most powerful individual in Sudan today.

    He is leader of the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary organization created out of the janjaweed, the Arab militias that have long terrorized these villages.

    Have things changed for you, since the 2019 revolution?

  • Abdulgadir Abdulrahman Ibrahim:

    The armed militias that attacked the villages—they are headed by Hemeti. They are the people committing crimes against humanity. We didn't notice any change from the former regime and the transitional government. The Rapid Support Forces are the people who have authority. They are the ones who were told to eliminate Darfuri communities.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Ibrahim and his soldiers are calling for compensation to Darfur's victims, and for displaced Darfuris to be able to return home.

    But violence in Darfur is increasing, in particular along ethnic lines, threatening to put the region in conflict yet again.

    In January, more than 250 civilians, including three aid workers, were killed in inter-ethnic clashes. Dozens of homes were burned, and more than a hundred thousand people fled.

    Just weeks before the violence, the UN shut down its peacekeeping mission here, once one of the world's largest and most expensive. The UN peacekeeping base used to protect Kalma Camp, Darfur's largest camp for displaced people. More than 128,000 people still live here.

    With violence escalating around Darfur, most have no hope of returning to their villages.

    Forty nine-year-old Saleh Haroun Mohamed says his brother tried to leave Kalma and return to his birth village last year but was killed by Arab militias.

    Does anyone in the camp feel like they can go back to their villages?

  • Saleh Haroun Mohamed:

    Last month there was a group of people who decided to voluntarily return to their village. After they arrived, people came and killed them and burned their village again. How can we feel safe to go back? So we have no will to go back unless the general security situation is improved.

  • Benedict Moran:

    The transitional government of Sudan promised to send former President Omar al Bashir to the International Criminal Court, where he is wanted for war crimes.

    And, the court will soon begin the trial of a man accused of being a senior commander of the Janjaweed militias. Crucial steps that might provide peace of mind, even if it doesn't create peace on the ground.

  • Saleh Haroun Mohamed:

    If they don't take Bashir to the ICC, the conflict will start again because his followers will follow in his footsteps and do the same as he did, because there was no punishment. We are insisting that the government should take Bashir to the ICC for punishment. He shouldn't be punished here in Sudan.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Meanwhile, the international community is encouraging the SLA to work with Sudan's new authorities for peace.

    Volker Perthes is the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Sudan.

  • Volker Perthes:

    There's a lot of mistrust. And I guess this is probably the most important obstacle to get everybody to sign up and work together. We are trying to tell all the stakeholders that they are all needed to build a new Sudan.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Back on Jebel Marra the rebels say the Sudanese government can build trust, by doing more to help communities here. Humanitarian aid can now enter rebel areas.

    For Moussa Ibrahim and his mud hut medical clinic, that means hope for the future, and for Jebel Marra's 11.000 civil and military inhabitants.

  • Ismail Moussa Ibrahim:

    The whole area and SLA lands depend solely on this clinic but now since Doctors Without Borders has started to arrive the future looks better than before.

  • Benedict Moran:

    If living conditions can improve, that could encourage the SLA to stand down… and put their signature on a peace deal.

  • Abdulgadir Abdulrahman Ibrahim:

    The SLA movement works for its people to fulfill their humanitarian needs. We will put down our guns when the area is safe and peaceful. Then we will participate in all government areas as equals. We do not want war and when we fight, we fight for our people's rights.

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