Militiamen torch mosque, intimidate returnees in North Darfur

Militiamen torched a mosque which people were building in a village in Kutum locality in North Darfur on Friday, in disapproval against the return of displaced people.

Militiamen drive by a village on fire in Sudan (file photo)

Militiamen torched a mosque which people were building in a village in Kutum locality in North Darfur on Friday, in disapproval against the return of displaced people.

The building in Labous village was being constructed by a group of people, including some displaced, in advance of the return of other displaced people from Kassab and Fata Borno camps.

Leaders of the two camps told Radio Dabanga that the displaced people started returning after the executive director of the locality and locality officials convinced them to return to Labous village, pointing to a prevalence of security and peace in the area.

One of the camp leaders said: “The returnees began to build a mosque in the village in preparation for the return, but on Friday, a number of militiamen burned it down, announcing their disapproval of the return of displaced people to the village.”

“Other displaced people were prevented by militiamen from returning to Nangido village, north of the Fata Borno camp, on Saturday,” the camp leader added.

The group of militiamen blocked their way to Nangido, saying that “these lands are liberated and owned” by them. They were driving a Land Cruiser and three motorcycles.

“What the government says about the voluntary return process is contrary to the reality in North Darfur.” – MP El Tayeb Kafwat

MP confirms events

El Tayeb Kafwat, the Member of Parliament who represents Kutum and Fata Borno localities in Sudan’s National Assembly, confirmed the events to Radio Dabanga that numbers of displaced people experienced during their attempt to return to Labous and Nangido on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Yesterday, Kafwat told Radio Dabanga: “It is true that some of the displaced people returned to their places and faced blockades by some militiamen, of whom we do not know which group they belong to. According to the description of the witnesses, these militiamen wore military uniforms and drove Land Cruisers.

“Which means there is a proliferation of weapons, despite the announcement [of the state government] of collecting them.”

The MP called on the state, the federal government, and the security committees overseeing the collection of illegal weapons, to move urgently. “The talk from the government about voluntary return is contrary to the reality in the areas destined for voluntary return in North Darfur.”

No one is protecting returnees’

Regarding he situation now in Kutum locality, Kafwat said that he finished a visit to several villages destined for voluntary returns and displaced camps in the locality this week.

“In my assessment of the situation, after talking with the sheikhs, I found there is no environment conducive for voluntary returns. This in addition to parties preventing displaced people and refugees from returning to their homes and lands.”

The MP stressed that there is no force that protect the returnees to their villages in Kutum. What is required now, Kafwat said, is for the security service to precede the displaced people and refugees to the areas of return in order to reassure the returnees.

Relocation and return

A return village in Um Baru, North Darfur (file photo)

In accordance with the signing of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur in July 2011, the government constructed several ‘model villages’ for displaced people to move to, and vowed to support displaced people who decide to return to their home areas. The voluntary return of displaced people and refugees, however, remains the main challenge for the Sudanese government seen the large numbers of people still living in the relative safety of the camps. According to the latest global numbers, the conflict and ensuing insecurity had still displaced over 2.7 million people in Darfur in December 2016 (UN OCHA).

In October, North Darfur state announced that this first phase includes the resettlement of 45,000 families – meaning at least 135,000 people. Early November the state government and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) launched the dismantling of the three camps Abu Shouk, El Salam and Zamzam camps. People would be granted “a 300 square metre piece of land with an ownership certificate” here, or voluntarily return to their home areas.

In April this year, the first large-scale voluntary returns from Chad took place when the UNHCR and the Commissioner of Refugees (COR) assisted dozens of Sudanese refugees from Chad in their return to Kabkabiya, Saraf Omra and Karnoi. The operation is planned to continue in December.