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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 July 2007, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Arabs face discrimination in Chad
By Stephanie Hancock
BBC News, Aradib, eastern Chad

Just past a camp for displaced Chadians, past the jumble of straw huts and plastic sheeting, lies a small village called Aradib.

Kaltouma Mahamat
Kaltouma Mahamat fled an attack on her village

The people of Aradib are lying low; inter-ethnic violence which swept through this region has now arrived on their own doorstep, and villagers are scared of what is in store for them.

But the inhabitants here are in a peculiar position: their village is Arab.

In these parts, Arab has now become a byword for "Janjaweed" attackers - Arabs on horse- and camel-back who have forced 170,000 Chadians from their homes, and countless more across the border in Sudan's Darfur region.

So how does it feel to be an Arab in an area where ethnic tensions are running so high?

Zakaria Yacoub, the village chief of Aradib, paints a sombre picture.

"When the Janjaweed started attacking last year we went to the authorities to explain we are innocent," he says.

"But because we're Arabs, we were still accused of being guides for the Janjaweed.

"Even today people call us the Janjaweed. They won't say it to our faces, but when our backs are turned they call after us."

Revenge attacks

The people of Aradib claim the Janjaweed attackers are all from Sudan - dismissing mounting evidence that some Chadian Arabs have been attacking their own neighbours.

map

Villagers in Aradib claim they face regular persecution from non-Arab tribes around them.

Name calling; harassment and isolated cases of violence, including shootings, have become a regular feature of their day-to-day lives, they say.

While everyone here accepts that black African groups have borne the brunt of the violence, Arabs are keen to remind outsiders that some of their villages have been attacked as well.

To prove his point, Mr Yacoub takes us to a village just up the road called Goz Amir.

The sight which greets us is grimly familiar: every house has been burnt to the ground, giant clay urns have been smashed and destroyed, and the inhabitants have long since fled.

But Goz Amir is an Arab village, and locals say it was destroyed six months ago in a revenge attack, along with several other Arab settlements.

The attacks, Mr Yacoub says, were headed by "Toroboro" militia, African self-defence groups that certain groups have formed to protect themselves from attack and - occasionally - dish out revenge.

Kaltouma Mahamat survived the attack on Goz Amir, the village of her birth.

She is now taking refuge nearby in Aradib, but says she still feels scared.

"Everyone calls us the Janjaweed. Sometimes they pass us and threaten us by shouting: 'You Arabs, you'll see, you'll see'."

One of the ironic things here is that the mass population displacement caused by inter-ethnic violence has actually made the opposing communities live closer together.

Local truce

For example, the area around Aradib village has been transformed in recent years - first by the arrival of Sudanese refugees, and now by sprawling camps for displaced Chadians.

With victims of Janjaweed attacks living alongside local Arabs, and often having to share resources such as water and land, it is perhaps not surprising that tensions are proving hard to defuse.

Ruins in Goz Amir
There's still a long way to go before people learn to live together again
UN's Samuel Boutrouche
To make matters worse, international aid efforts have - naturally - focused on the displaced, providing food aid, health care and water pumps.

But local Arabs feel marginalised and bitter that they have received next to no help.

"We used to be like brothers with the African tribes, but since they've arrived in the camps here this is not so," says Kaltouma Ibrahim, a young mother in Aradib village.

"When we try to use a water well that aid workers built, the African tribes say: 'No, this well was made especially for us by the whites, you can't use it'."

There is reason to be hopeful though - African elders have just signed a peace deal with their Arab neighbours, and there have not been any major attacks for several weeks now.

Samuel Boutrouche, of the UN refugee agency, welcomes the peace accord, but warns there is a long way to go.

"The violence has been very complex and it's true that while most of the attacks we witnessed were by Arab militias on African villages, we have also instances of African militias targeting Arab villages," he says.

"There are attempts between the communities to reconcile each other - but on an everyday basis there's still a long way to go before people learn to live together again."

The real test of the peace deal will come in a few months time, when the rainy season finishes and the terrain becomes passable again for would-be attackers.

For now, rains have cut off the camps from the outside world, and the communities continue to live side by side in an uneasy truce.




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