Sitting under the roof of his squat reed hut in Chad’s Treguine refugee camp, local leader Ishaq Haron said his people are tired of life in the camps and are ready to return to their homes in Darfur.
“Everyone wants to return,” he said. “Even children ask their parents about going back to their homes in Darfur. Right now though, return is impossible.”
Haron told Aljazeera.net that he hasn’t seen his home since the Sudanese government bombed it over two years ago and he feels certain that if people go back, they will be killed.
On May 5, Minni Arkou Minawi, the leader of the strongest faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (the DPA) with the government to end fighting that has killed an estimated 400,000 Darfuris and displaced over 2 million.
Although the United Nations, the African Union and the US praised Minawi for signing the agreement, most Darfuris are critical of his decision and say the DPA won’t bring peace to Darfur.
While refugees support the rebels for protecting them from Sudan’s government, they say more should be done to improve the lives of regular Darfuris.
“The [rebel] movements must speak about the refugees and displaced in Darfur,” Haron said, adding that many feel that Minawi has signed an empty agreement.
The anger of the Darfuri refugees is translating into swelling support for rebel factions that did not – to the annoyance of the UN and Sudan- sign the DPA.
The leading anti-treaty rebels include an SLA faction led by the rebel group’s original leader, Abdel Wahid Mohammed Al-Nur, and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by Khalil Ibrahim.
These groups have demanded that Darfuris are given a greater role in the Khartoum government and ensured a more equitable distribution of Sudan‘s wealth.
They have also called for the development of basic services such as roads, health care, and schools in Darfur.
The dispute is turning increasingly violent, pitting Minawi’s SLA faction against the National Redemption Front (NRF), a new coalition made from JEM, the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance (SFDA), and smaller breakaway SLA factions.
In recent weeks, Minawi’s faction has lost control of significant amounts of territory in what has been their stronghold in northern Darfur.
Most Darfuris outside of Minawi’s Zaghawa ethnic group – and many within it – support the dissenting factions for refusing to sign the agreement. They are angry that Minawi signed the deal and say that he no longer represents them.
“Minawi is a military commander, not a politician,” said Adam Ibrahim al-Mustafa, school director in the Treguine refugee camp. “All he wants is to keep control. If the world decides to back this agreement, it will be an absolute failure.”
Concrete benefits sought
Who are the Janjaweed?
Comprised mostly of armed Arab gunmen in Darfur, the Janjaweed have since 2003 been one of the principal actors in the Darfur conflict, trained and financed by the central government in Khartoum to target the non-Arab Muslim populations of the region.
The conflict in Darfur dates back to issues around access to the regions dwindling water supply, wells and arable land for the grazing of livestock.
The current conflict flared up in 2003 when rebels in Sudan‘s western region took up arms demanding equitible distribution of wealth and the proliferation of basic services such as roads, schools, and health facilities.
The government responded to the uprising by targeting Darfur‘s non-Arab civilian population though bombing campaigns and government sponsored militias.
The DPA requires the Sudanese government to integrate 4,000 former rebels into the military, and grant the positions of Senior Assistant to the President and the Chairperson of the newly established Transitional Darfur Regional Authority to former rebels.
But most refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in Darfur say that they want more concrete benefits for ordinary people.
“We demand individual reparations for what they stole from us and destroyed during the war,” said Bokhit Dabo, a former mayor in Darfur and a refugee leader in Chad’s Ouri Cassoni camp.
Under the terms of the DPA, the Sudanese government has agreed to establish a Compensation Commission with a fund of $30 million to repay war victims.
But dissenting rebel groups and Darfuri civilians say that the sum won’t even come close to reimbursing them.
“We demand individual compensation, not one lump payment,” said Haron, adding that agriculturalists and pastoralists won’t be able to restart their lives in Darfur unless they are repaid for the livestock taken by the Janjaweed.
Disarming the Janjaweed
Dabo told Aljazeera.net that a key demand – also echoed by Minawi and his supporters – is for the Janjaweed to be disarmed.
The DPA failed to specify how the Janjaweed will be disarmed and according to an International Crisis Group report, the Sudanese government made – and broke – promises to disarm the Janjaweed five times since the conflict began.
The dissenting rebel groups and refugees are also seeking to have leaders of the Darfur conflict arrested and tried in international courts.
Dissenting rebel groups as well as Minawi’s SLA faction say that they want to see an UN peacekeeping force deployed to protect them from the Sudanese military and Janjaweed. Refugees insist that they won’t return to their villages until troops are on the ground.
An African Union peacekeeping force already operates in Darfur but lacks the money, manpower and equipment to effectively police an area the size of France. And unlike the proposed UN force, the African Union lacks a mandate to use force to protect civilians.
“The African Union was supposed to solve the Darfur crisis and they’ve now been there for about 12 months, but we haven’t seen any solutions for the refugees or internally displaced persons (IDP),” said Haron.
Woman queues for food in Chad’s Bredjine refugee camp
“If [UN] forces don’t intervene, the war will intensify more than what it was at first,” said Dabo. “We will return and they will kill us and steal from us just like they did in the beginning.”
In July, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir refused to allow UN peacekeepers to enter Darfur. And without his permission UN forces say they cannot intervene.
Many Darfuris say the international community is giving too much legitimacy to the Sudanese president.
“The international community should be asking the rebel movements in Darfur if they want intervention, not the Sudanese government,” said refugee in Chad‘s Djabal Refugee camp Ahmed Abdullah Mohammed.
Better than war
In response to the critics of the peace deal, Minawi’s SLA rebels say they recognise that the peace deal does not satisfy all the demands of the refugees, but they argue that an incomplete peace is better than more war.
“All there is in Darfur is killing,” said SLA field commander Mustafa Al-Daud in North Darfur. “Our priority is to stop the killing and once there is peace we will push for our demands.”
Civilians and rebel factions agree that the killing must end immediately, but most doubt that this agreement will have any lasting effect.
Sitting in a gathering of solemn-faced refugees discussing the DPA, Abdul Rahman Yaqub, the Imam of one of Treguine’s white-tent mosques, said: “We don’t need the signing of a piece of paper. We need justice.”
All photos by Shane Bauer