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As Humans Are Hunted

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
New York Times Op-Ed

October 13, 2004

FARAWIYA, Sudan

Hawa Moussa Abdullah was lucky enough to survive the first round of murder here in Darfur, but all the international outrage at Sudan's genocide isn't helping her much. She and her four children are still having to live like hunted beasts.

She is one of more than 500,000 victims of the Darfur genocide who are beyond the reach of international aid. The inability to reach victims is one reason the United Nations describes Darfur as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.

So Ms. Hawa and her children gather wild seeds to eat, and they huddle under trees at night. They live in constant terror that the Sudanese Army or the militia it financed, the Janjaweed, will find them and kill them all.

The Army and the Janjaweed attacked her village early this year. The thatched huts were burned, and village wells were filled with rubble or corpses. Ms. Hawa's husband disappeared and presumably was killed.

Most of the village's survivors escaped to Chad or to camps outside the cities. It is the frail - the young, the old, the infirm - who remain, stuck in a war zone with no way to flee. Ms. Hawa was heavily pregnant and could not make the journey to Chad, a four-day trip by camel.

So she hides with her children in the hills. She gave birth under a tree with the help of an elderly neighbor who was also too weak to escape. Ms. Hawa tries to nurse her baby daughter, but she has little milk and the infant is scrawny.

"It's like we're being hunted," said a woman from the village of Karakil, 60-year-old Kultuma Muhammad. "We're still staying outside, because of fear. We're terrified, and besides, our houses are burned."

The Sudanese government refuses to give me a visa so I came here on my own, sneaking across the border into Darfur from neighboring Chad.

The area is desolate and throbs with malevolence, with villages burned and abandoned and survivors hiding from the Janjaweed and the Sudanese Army. Tearing across the desert in a pickup truck, I see more gazelles than humans. When survivors see my vehicle, they tend to hide. And, frankly, when I see a man, my impulse is to hide as well. That makes interviews difficult.

This area is controlled, to some degree, by rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army. The rebels have also killed and robbed civilians, but not nearly as often as the Sudanese government. The limits of rebel discipline were underscored when I rolled up to a rebel checkpoint: the commander scolded me for not calling ahead because, he said, the rebels might have shot me by mistake.

The stories of those hiding in Darfur are heartbreaking. Zahra Mochtar Muhammad, from the village of Darma, saw the Janjaweed kill her husband. In the chaos of the gunfire and burning huts, she and her children ran in different directions, and she lost her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

Later, she found her children's bodies where they had died of thirst. They were together - the older one had apparently tried to protect her brother.

Ms. Zahra's family had owned 100 camels, 50 sheep and 150 cattle - a net worth of more than $100,000 - but now she is a homeless, penniless cavewoman. She and her four surviving children, ages 5 to 10, live furtively under trees or in abandoned huts, surviving on wild seeds.

"If I had transport, I would go to Chad," she said. But she and two other widows' families have only one donkey among them. Even if the adults and older children could walk to safety, the younger ones could not.

It's progress that the world has denounced the genocide without waiting the customary 10 years before wringing its hands in regret. But there are many other steps the United States could take: a no-flight zone, an arms embargo, an asset freeze on businesses owned by Sudan's ruling party, and greater teamwork with African and Islamic countries to exert more pressure on Sudan.

President Bush is already in the forefront of the world leaders who have addressed the slaughter in Darfur, and he has done far more than President Clinton did during the Rwandan genocide. But there is so much more the United States can still do.

Mr. President, you pride yourself on your willingness to stand up to evil - so why do you remain so passive in the face of such evil?

E-mail: nicholas@nytimes.com

 
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