- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2004

SHEGEK KARO, Sudan — Hawa Bashi’s new home is a thorny little tree the locals call katera. She and her four children will have to sleep under that tree until they move to another tree.

Mrs. Bashi is among thousands of people who fled their villages in the Darfur region of western Sudan, terrorized by Sudanese forces and the Janjaweed Arab militia.

Their village, just a few miles from this picturesque valley, was bombed by the Sudanese air force and torched by the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed.

It’s a story that repeats again and again in every village once inhabited by the Zaghawa, a camel- and cattle-herding society that dates back to the seventh century and today lives primarily along the Sudan-Chad border.

“First, we heard the planes,” Mrs. Bashi said, holding her 2-year-old son, Hari. “They bombed us and then the army and the Janjaweed came and burned our village.”

Arab Muslims, who control Sudan’s government are attempting to ethnically cleanse western Sudan of the Zaghawa, who practice a blend of Islam and animist beliefs.

When her village was attacked, Mrs. Bashi picked up her four children and ran. The village is now under control of the rebelSudanese Liberation Army (SLA), but Mrs. Bashi and dozens of women and children who found refuge under the neighboring trees are too afraid to go back.

It was a rebellion by the SLA and others against the Khartoum government that unleashed the punishing attacks by the government and the Janjaweed against the black Muslim population of western Darfur.

Yesterday, Mrs. Bashi and her neighbors got lucky: SLA soldiers distributed a quarter of a sack of corn flour to each family.

But that help might be too late for little Hari. He can’t walk anymore and has trouble sitting by himself.

The boy is severely malnourished and has lost any interest in food. He can’t even wave off the flies that nest in the corners of his eyes.

Mrs. Bashi’s older daughters are cooking “go,” a paste made of corn flour and served with sami, a local spice.

“He won’t eat more than two spoons,” Mrs. Hari said with a sad smile. “I don’t know what to do.”

Until now, she, like every family in this part of Darfur has survived on makhet, a tiny pealike fruit. It has to be soaked in water for days before it becomes edible. Still, it never really loses its bitter taste.

Under the neighboring tree, Fatima Timan is trying to feed her grandson, Teja Khater Khamis. Like Hari, Teja is severely malnourished and he has a nasty cough. It doesn’t look like the toddler has much time left either.

But Mrs. Timan perseveres. “I can’t lose him,” she said as she tried to convince Teja to eat a spoonful of go. “I lost my husband when the army came to our village. They took him away, and I haven’t heard of him since.”

Mrs. Timan is the matriarch in this little community of 25 children and 7 women, sheltering under the trees.

Every woman here has a story, but they go numb when asked about the fate of their husbands. Only Mrs. Timan seems to have reconciled herself to the thought that she’ll probably never see her husband again.

“They probably killed him,” Mrs. Timan said, trying to calm Teja, who seems to be terrified of the white reporter.

“You look like an Arab,” she said, explaining Teja’s terror.

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