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Darfur's violence is spreading into Chad

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DJAWARA, Chad -- There was no time for grave markers. But around some of the dirt mounds, the victims' shoes were laid out neatly like slippers beside a bed.

Wild animals had unearthed body parts and human bones from the hastily dug mass graves. As local elder Abdullah Aziz Ibrahim walked through the pasture, he held his breath against the stench.

"They killed us one by one," he said. He stooped over the grave of one former neighbor to try to cover the man's exposed skull with branches and leaves.

The Darfur conflict in neighboring Sudan is bleeding across the border into Chad, and the massacre in Djawara, where 117 people are believed to have died in April, is the most gruesome evidence yet. Scenes like this are common in western Sudan, but around here no one can remember anything similar. Local tribesmen and aid workers say the tribes of eastern Chad have lived in relative harmony for years, with the occasional skirmishes over cattle and water.

But as world leaders push for peace in Darfur and the United Nations is hoping to deploy peacekeepers, the militias known as janjaweed have started using the same tactics here, stealing cattle and killing or displacing thousands of civilians, according to interviews with displaced Chadians, aid workers and local government officials.

The violence started spreading into Chad at the end of last year, but since March it has penetrated deeper and become more deadly. The number of militant groups on all sides of the conflict is growing.

An estimated 50,000 Chadians have abandoned their homes and are living in camps, often locating next to refugees from Darfur and putting further pressure on international aid efforts. Violence in some border towns has become so intense recently that for the first time several thousand Chadians fled into Darfur.

Most alarming to many here, the Sudanese janjaweed, which reportedly have been supported by the Khartoum government, are radicalizing related tribes in Chad and luring them to participate in attacks by promising a share of the stolen land and cattle, according to Chad officials, displaced civilians and aid workers. The conflict on both sides of the border pits tribes who view themselves chiefly as Arab against those who think of themselves as black or African.

"They are instigating the Arabs here," said Moussa Mustafa, a Chad-based military leader with the Sudanese Liberation Army, one of the Darfur rebel groups fighting the Sudanese government.

Victims of recent attacks in Chad say some of their attackers appeared to be Sudanese, but they insist that local tribes are also participating.

When janjaweed horsemen surrounded Djawara, located about 40 miles from the border, villagers had just finished prayers and were resting under the trees. Several hundred attackers surrounded the village on horseback and began rounding up cattle and ransacking their huts, witnesses said.

Most women and children escaped, but a large group of the men, armed only with thin spears, were chased to a nearby pasture, where they tried to hide in the trees. The bullet-ridden body of one man remained tangled in the treetops where he was shot until it finally dropped to the ground recently, witnesses said.

In many ways, the attacks in Chad mirror those in Darfur, where rebel groups rose up against Khartoum in 2003 after years of marginalization. The Sudanese government responded by unleashing a counterinsurgency, which eventually developed into the janjaweed. More than 180,000 people are believed to have died in the Darfur conflict, and 2 million, including 200,000 refugees now living in Chad, have been displaced. The U.S. calls the Darfur conflict genocide.

Aid workers and political analysts say that the violence and displacement in eastern Chad and western Sudan are so intertwined that any move to solve the Sudan conflict must include Chad.

A U.N. Security Council delegation will visit Goz Beida this weekend. Chadian President Idriss Deby wants the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers in Chad as well as in Sudan to ensure the violence doesn't shift into his backyard.

So far, the government of Chad, one of the world's poorest countries, has been unable to handle the growing emergency. Deby has been distracted by an internal rebel movement that includes former military officials who defected last year and some disgruntled relatives.

Eastern Chad has become home to a dizzying collection of militant groups, including Sudanese janjaweed, Chadian janjaweed, Chadian rebels and Sudanese rebel groups such as the Sudanese Liberation Army. All sides have been accused of launching attacks on civilians or refugees.

The local sultan in Goz Beida, Seid Brahim, who is also a leader of the Dadjo tribe, said his people deserve better. "The government is not doing anything to stop these attacks," he said. He noted that there have been no arrests in the Djawara massacre.

Humanitarian groups who flooded to eastern Chad in 2004 to assist Darfur refugees are being forced to grapple with displaced local people, as well.

"It's putting a lot of strain on our resources," said Nitesh Patel, head of World Food Program's office in Goz Beida.

In just three months, nearly 12,000 Chadians have settled on farmland about a mile outside town, not far from the Djabel refugee camp for more than 17,000 Sudanese refugees. There's not enough water to supply the two camps and the local population, stirring tension and resentment.

Soon the rainy season will begin, flooding the farmland and heightening the risk of malaria and other diseases.

Aid groups have resisted providing free food and emergency supplies to the Chad population, fearful that they'll encourage local people to become dependent on aid and create permanent camps. Instead, they are attempting to scatter families into small villages and offering them plots of farmland to support themselves.

But the situation is deteriorating, and this month the WFP began its first major distribution of seeds and food baskets.

Edmund Sanders writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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