SUDAN WATCH: Sudan's Dinka back home after 20-year journey - 90,000 displaced southerners in Darfur, 25,000 have returned

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sudan's Dinka back home after 20-year journey - 90,000 displaced southerners in Darfur, 25,000 have returned

June 3, 2006 UK Independent report by Tristan McConnell in Kiir Adem, South Darfur:

Joseph Dut is going home after years on the move. He fled his home in southern Sudan in 1983; now the cycle of violence is returning him once again.

He is one of thousands of southern Sudanese who escaped to the western province of Darfur during the 21-year civil war, only to flee south again now due to the fighting there.

The banks of the river Kiir have been home to thousands of southern Sudanese for the past few months as destitute and hungry people flee Darfur. They are predominantly Dinka people, traditionally cattle-herding Africans, but Sudan's wars robbed them of their cows long ago.

The Kiir's 100-yard-wide stream of swampy chest-deep water marks the difference between safety and danger in this disputed border area between north and south Sudan.

The trading centre of Kiir Adem is little more than a strip of dirt with a ramshackle collection of wooden frames and grass roofs. Here, Mr Dut sits on a small pile of his belongings. "When the Arab militias came to the town we were in, shooting, we ran," recalls Mr Dut. "They took everything, so we left."

In a continent of sometimes ungovernably large countries, Sudan is the largest. It has been torn apart by civil wars since independence from Britain in 1956. While the fighting in Darfur continued, the war between Khartoum and the south ended in January 2005, after 21 years and two million deaths.

People such as Mr Dut were pushed from pillar to post. For many, it is the first time they have returned in more than two decades.

"After leaving the south we lived for some time as refugees in Libya, and then we moved back to Sudan, to Darfur," says Mr Dut. In Darfur he - with his wife and five children - worked as a farmer on the arid land and slowly rebuilt their lives. Then the Janjaweed militia came earlier this year, shooting AK-47s, burning houses and looting. Again, Mr Dut was on the run.

Mr Dut is one of 11,000 southern Sudanese who have travelled from the state of South Darfur through Kiir Adem into the neighbouring state of Northern Bar el-Ghazal in the past three months, fleeing attacks by the Janjaweed militias blamed for the ethnic cleansing in Darfur.

The conflict in Darfur threatens an already shaky peace agreement in the south, monitored by a 10,000-strong UN force.

Next week, a UN Security Council delegation will visit southern Sudan, Khartoum and Darfur to assess the country's continuing troubles.

Nick Horne, a UN official in Aweil town in Northern Bar el-Ghazal, estimates that of the 90,000 displaced southerners in Darfur, 25,000 have so far returned. "Some of those returning now left because of the fighting, some because of the famine in 1987," he said.

This week, the migration of displaced people will all but stop as the rainy season begins in earnest. But for Mr Dut and his family, more than 20 years of fleeing conflict are at last over. Once again he will be starting to rebuild his life, but this time he is at home. "Home is always home. Even though there's nothing here, I am happy," he says.
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June 4 2006 Scotland on Sunday - Sudan refugees seek home in Israel.



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