28 janvier 2023

The Sudanese janjaweed militia attacked and shot her 5-year-old and 8-year-old sons

On IHT : " NEAR THE CHAD-SUDAN BORDER: I was going to begin this column with a 13-year-old Chadian boy crippled by a bullet in his left knee, but my hunch is that you might be more interested in hearing about another person on the river bank beside the boy: George Clooney.

Clooney flew in with me to the little town of Dogdore, along the border with Darfur, Sudan, to see how the region is faring six years after the Darfur genocide began. Clooney figured that since cameras follow him everywhere, he might as well redirect some of that spotlight to people who need it more.

It didn’t work perfectly: No paparazzi showed up. But, hey, it has kept you reading at least this far into yet another hand-wringing column about Darfur, hasn’t it?

So I’ll tell you what. You read my columns about Darfur from this trip, and I’ll give you the scoop on every one of Clooney’s wild romances and motorcycle accidents in this remote nook of Africa. You’ll read it here, way before The National Enquirer has it, but only if you wade through paragraphs of genocide.

The Darfur conflict has now lasted longer than World War II, but this year could be a turning point – provided that President Barack Obama shows leadership and that the world backs up the International Criminal Court’s expected arrest warrant for Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The stakes are evident in this little market town of Dogdore, whose normal population of just a few thousand has swelled to 28,000 desperate, fearful people driven from smaller villages. They don’t think it’s safe here, but they find some reassurance in numbers – and leaving town isn’t an option, either, because flying out from the dirt airstrip is the only way to avoid rampant banditry on the roads.

Aid workers were pulled from Dogdore in the fall because of violence in the area, leaving people on their own. Aid workers have just returned, but the entire town remains on edge.

One of the first people we met was Qatri Ibrahim, a young woman who fled her village when the Sudanese janjaweed militia attacked and shot her 5-year-old and 8-year-old sons. "I’m afraid," she said grimly. "But there are other people here, so I stay."

In Darfur and eastern Chad, you can randomly approach any group of people and find heartbreaking stories. Clooney was clowning around with a group of boys bathing in the river – taking their photo and showing it to them digitally – and that’s when we met the 13-year-old boy with the bullet in his knee.

He’s Suleiman Ahsan, and he was wearing a pair of blue shorts – the only clothes he has. He also has a machete scar on his forehead; both it and the bullet date from a janjaweed attack on his village two years ago that killed his father.

Last year, Suleiman joined a militia and became a child soldier to avenge his father. "Recruiters come to the camps looking for boys like me to fight," Suleiman told us. "Boys of 10 or 12 are old enough."

Suleiman said that he learned to shoot but found the soldier’s life too grueling, so he deserted. Now he’s back to struggling to find food.

The International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for President Bashir – widely expected in the coming weeks – has the area particularly on edge, for fear that Bashir could retaliate by using a proxy force to invade Chad.

The fact that Sudan’s state-sponsored slaughter of civilians goes on, year after year, in and out of Darfur, is a monument to the fecklessness of the international community. A spasm of that same fecklessness intruded on this trip with Clooney, who is traveling unofficially but is a UN goodwill ambassador.

Apparently concerned that Clooney might say something strongly critical of Bashir – perhaps come down hard on genocide? – the United Nations called me on Wednesday to say that effective immediately it was pulling Clooney’s security escort as he traveled these roads along the border. Now that did seem petty and mean-spirited. A Frenchman working for Save the Children was murdered on such roads last year, and the UN requires a military escort for its own vehicles here.

If the United Nations is too craven to protect its own goodwill ambassadors – because they might criticize genocide – it’s not surprising that it and the international community fail to protect hundreds of thousands of voiceless Darfuris.

Oh, and now for the juicy truth about all of Clooney’s wild romances and motorcycle accidents. Darn – out of space. Wait for my next column from this trip, on Sunday. …


By Nicholas D. Kristof
Thursday, February 19, 2009

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