Rebels are taking up names like George Bush and Colin Powell
because of their opposition to the violence in Darfur

The civil war that has engulfed Darfur in western Sudan has drawn in many young men who say they are fighting for the rights of the region's predominantly black African population against the Khartoum government.

At the foot of the Jebel Marra - a mountain range in the heart of Darfur - the rebels have established what they call a "liberated zone".

Al Jazeera's Mohamed Vall travelled to the region to speak to the foot soldiers of the Sudanese Liberation Army.

They have lived on this mountain for centuries and boast of an inherited ownership of the land. Surging from the hills like its natural inhabitants, their chants fill the valleys. Every song is a battle cry.

Heart of Darfur


Al Jazeera's Mohamed Vall meets the fighters of Darfur

Most of the rebel fighters were farmers before the war but now their families are living off handouts in camps for the displaced, fuelling their anger against the government.

"We started this struggle for the sake of freedom. Since independence we've had no freedom. We are riding donkeys and they are riding in cars," a fighter told his comrades.

"We want all the Sudanese people to be able to ride in cars, just like people in the capital city."

Independent state

Social and economic equality is the principle demand of the group's leadership but young fighters like Fariq al-Qawmi have far more radical aspirations.

"We don't need the Sudanese government," he told Al Jazeera. "Darfur is our land and we can govern ourselves. We are going to make our own independent state, God willing."  

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Outspoken about securing separation from the predominantly Arab north , even their fashions and hair express a renewed attachment to their black African roots, and shifting identities mean shifting alliances.

The Fur - the ethnic group that make up a large part of the region's population - used to name themselves after Arab heroes like Gamal Abdel Nasser, the popular Egyptian president that forced Britain, France and Israel into an embarassing withdrawal from the Suez canal.

Now they are choosing new names, like George Bush, after the US president who described the violence in Darfur as "genocide", and Colin Powell, who was the first US secretary of state to visit the region.

One fighter told Al Jazeera that he was named Jan Pronk, after the former United Nations special envoy on the Darfur situation, because "he stands up for our Darfurian cause".

Islam is their core belief, but it is mixed with African animism and the fighters wear Quranic amulets, magic charms to ward off death.

At a market, fighters are spellbound watching an elder crafting sacred amulets that make a man invisible to his enemies. Easy recruits for a rebellion fuelled by decades of government neglect and masterminded by an educated elite based abroad.

Source: Al Jazeera