DARFUR: This is my third visit to the camps around El Fasher now, and every time they throw up something different. Abu Shouk was expanding rapidly during my first visit. This was just at the end of the first phase of the conflict, when the Janjaweed and government forces were still engaged in large-scale attacks on civilian targets. People were arriving in large numbers on a daily basis.
I returned about eight months later, shortly after the Darfur Peace Agreement had been signed, to find that the camp residents were angry in a way that I hadn’t seen before. The flaws in the DPA and their support for Abdelwahid Mohammed Nur (who didn’t sign up) meant that the largely Fur population was politicised in a way that was new. They knew what they wanted and felt they had been stitched up. Tensions with other tribes were on the rise.
Now there is a new dimension. It has long been known that rebels have been in and out of the camps visiting relatives and sometimes hiding weapons. This time Khartoum is getting in on the act, allowing weapons to reach the tribes that have fought alongside government troops in the past. The camps that were once safe havens are now riven by the same tribal tensions that the government has exploited across Darfur. See my piece in The Times
These divisions are not real. Darfur’s tribes have a long history of rubbing along rather well. Any differences could be solved be sitting down together under a shady tree, and coming up with a compromise – often involving a few unfortunate goats. But throw in a stack of cheap Chinese-made AK47s, undermine the traditional authority of the sheikhs and suddenly those differences become divisions. The roots of this conflict are not tribal, but the government has cleverly nurtured historic slights, grievances and misunderstandings to keep its opponents on the run.
What is happening in the camps is really a microcosm of the whole of Darfur.