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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June 2005, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Rebellion simmers in east Sudan
Ed Harris
BBC, eastern Sudan

Beja people with camels
A bleak desert region is home to the Beja people
Hamesh Koreb, a small sprawl of mud huts, is the largest town in a small rebel-controlled area of eastern Sudan.

Just days earlier, fighters from the Eastern Front rebel group had returned from a successful operation to kidnap three Sudanese officials.

"We are ready to fight against the government until we get justice and equality in Sudan," says Ali Hamed who took part in the operation.

The area controlled by the rebels, who are members of the Beja ethnic group, is a hot, dry, and bewildering mix of desert and mountain. The landscape is a mixture of rock, stone, sand, and dust, with palm trees, stunted acacias, and dry river beds.

Eastern rebels joined forces with other Sudanese opposition groups in 1995, fighting against Khartoum government soldiers in this area from 1996 until 2002, when both sides agreed to give peace negotiations a chance.

Anger remains

Beja people in eastern Sudan
Beja people are angry about the underdevelopment of their region
But the Beja people here are still angry at what they perceive to be marginalisation by the Khartoum government, and the extraordinary under-development of the area, exacerbated by recent conflict.

Analysts are concerned that eastern Sudan could become the next flashpoint in Africa's largest country.

When the International Rescue Committee, an international humanitarian NGO, began working behind the rebel front line in Eastern Sudan in 2001, they found no functioning health or education system, high malnutrition, infectious diseases out of control, and literacy rates of less than 5%.

All over the region, men in dirty clothes and sometimes without shoes, pull water up from deep wells. Some of them spend their entire days transporting water home on camels and donkeys through the region's heat and dry wind.

And women are a rare sight, living in separate tents and houses from their husbands who can only visit them at night.

Aid workers guess that less than 5% of Sudan's estimated 2.5 million Beja people live in this rebel-controlled area, which borders on Eritrea.

Beja representatives say the total number of Beja is closer to four million.

Rebel allies

The rebels in Hamesh Koreb admire the southern rebels who fought against the Khartoum government for more than 20 years, eventually winning a share of power.

Beja people
Government services like health and education are non-existent
Rebels from the south are a significant force in this rebel-controlled area, but they are slowly withdrawing under the terms of the January peace agreement between themselves and the government in Khartoum.

Meanwhile, rebels from the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement are arriving in the area, greeting me in the Eritrean border town of Rubda.

Other Sudanese rebel groups in the National Democratic Alliance are talking with the government, but the eastern rebels are not participating. They are doubtful that the talks will produce any tangible benefits.

In May, the Sudanese government held a conference in Kassala, promising development aid for the East. But Beja in the rebel-controlled area expressed doubts, saying they were not properly represented.

Unless eastern rebels and the government in Khartoum can be persuaded to talk in a meaningful way, more violence seems inevitable - though on what scale, and in what shape or form, nobody seems willing to say.


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