Sudanese militia leader Hilal accused of Sudan massacre speaks exclusively to ABC News
Nov. 18, 2004 - A Sudanese tribal chief accused of leading a massacre in the Darfur region of Sudan tells ABC News, in an exclusive interview, that the mass killings are the result of war, not genocide, as the United States has labeled it.
Nevertheless, the people of Darfur are survivors of an atrocity -- children, who'll be haunted for the rest of their lives by what they have seen; fathers, living with the guilt that they couldn't prevent it; and mothers, struggling to carry on.
A year and a half ago, the Sudanese government gave weapons to Arab militias known as the Janjaweed in order to suppress a rebellion by three black African tribes in Darfur. The Janjaweed -- the name means "evil horsemen" in Arabic -- have gone after the rebels, and their tribesmen, with cruel efficiency.
In July, the Janjaweed descended upon the village of Baraka in South Darfur and went on a rampage.
"About 100 horsemen surrounded us," said one eyewitness. "I heard one of them say, 'Kill them all. Kill all of the slaves.' "
The Janjaweed tied their hands before they shot them.
"They slaughtered 50 members of my family," said surviving villager Halima Ahmed. "Then they burned the bodies."
She alone must care for her only surviving grandson, in a hut that is no sturdier than a bird's nest.
"When the Janjaweed go in, they blow up the irrigation ditches so there is no way you can support yourself. It's an arid climate," said Andrew Natsios, director of the humanitarian organization USAID. "They dump the dead bodies in the wells to pollute the water so the people have nothing to drink. They destroy their crops."
A tribal sheik named Musa Hilal is responsible for the July attack, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.
"He is clearly one of the Janjaweed commanders," said Natsios.
The United States has demanded his arrest for war crimes. But the government of Sudan, the largest and least-visited country in all of Africa, has done nothing.
ABC News found Hilal living openly in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. When asked about the genocide accusations, Hilal told ABC News in Arabic, "It's not genocide. It's war. And in war, bad things happen. People die."
U.S. officials say the Janjaweed have destroyed some 400 villages and forced more than 1 million people into homelessness -- all with the blessing of the Sudanese government.
"They gang-rape the women, and they kill the men," said Natsios. "I think you could easily conclude that is genocide."
But according to Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail, the Sudanese foreign minister, "what is going on in Darfur is not genocide. This is an American attempt to use a humanitarian situation for a political agenda."
Crisis in Refugee Camps
In Darfur, at least 200 people a day are dying in the refugee camps, despite the best efforts of relief organizations to help them. Malnutrition and disease are now the biggest killers.
In the camps themselves, there is little sense of safety. The Sudanese government has commissioned thousands of new policemen to keep the peace. The day they deployed to Darfur, they tore apart a live chicken as a show of strength.
But the refugees say many of the new policemen -- sent to protect them -- used to be Janjaweed.
Last week, some of the policemen in South Darfur were seen beating refugees. Aid workers could only stand by and watch.
"Where are our human values here?" said Mathina Mydlna of the International Medical Corps. "I really honestly appeal to the humanity in people to please give these people some of their dignity back."
Mydlna says it's not enough to call the crisis in Sudan genocide. Somebody, she says, has to stop it.