Page last updated at 00:48 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Confessions of a Sudanese deserter


"We were ordered to kill all the women"

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

The Sudanese government has always said the accusations are political but now one of the country's former soldiers, who served in Darfur, has been telling his story to the BBC's Mike Thomson.

Khalid (not his real name), a polite and softly spoken man from Darfur, seems reluctant to talk about his past. It is soon clear why.

"The orders given to us were to burn the villages completely," he says.

"We even had to poison the water wells. We were also given orders to kill all the woman and rape girls under 13 and 14."

Khalid, who is of black African origin, says he was forcibly recruited into President Omar al-Bashir's Sudanese army in late 2002.

Many couldn't take all their children. If you saw them you had to shoot and kill
He and several other men where he lived were taken to the headquarters of his regiment which was based near the north-western Darfur town of Fasher.

He admits to having taken part in seven different attacks on Darfur villages with the help of Janjaweed militia.

The first one was in the Korma area in December 2002 several months before the conflict in Darfur officially began.

He claims to have been extremely reluctant to carry out the savage orders he was given.

"When they asked me to rape the girl, I went and stood in front of her," he said.

"Tears came into my eyes. They said: 'You have to rape her. If you don't we will beat you.' I hesitated and they hit me with the butt of a rifle.

"But when I went to the girl I couldn't do it. I took her into a corner and lay myself on top of her as if I was raping her for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Refugee from a Sudan government-backed forces attack
The six-year conflict has spawned more than two million refugees

"Then, I jumped up and came out. They said: 'Did you rape her?' I said: 'Yes, I did'."

Khalid says that soon after this he and the other soldiers went back to base.

When they got there he was told to join another patrol immediately.

When he refused they beat and tortured him, inflicting severe burns on his legs and back.

He spent five weeks in a military hospital recovering from his injuries.

Before long, he said, he was ordered to join other brutal raids on Darfur villages.

I asked him what he was told to do with unarmed civilians who did not resist in any way.

"They told us, don't leave anybody, just kill everybody," he said.

"Even the children, if left behind in the huts, we had to kill them," he said. "People would cry and run from their huts.

"Many couldn't take all their children. If they had more than two they had to leave them behind. If you saw them you had to shoot and kill."

In cold blood

Khalid insists that he always fired over the heads of civilians and didn't kill anyone himself despite the orders he was given.

He says he could do this without his fellow soldiers noticing but he admits that there was no way he could avoid carrying out orders to torch peoples homes.

The aftermath of a Janjaweed attack
The war in Darfur began in 2003 when rebel groups took up arms

"I did take part," he admitted. "They forced me. We had no choice. If you didn't they would kill you."

Did anyone refuse?

"Two of my colleagues refused and they were shot dead."

I asked him how the Sudanese officers had justified killing unarmed civilians in cold blood. How they had explained the need to slaughter women, babies and children?

He replied: "They said they are the ones who take food and water to the rebels.

"They said that if we kill these people and burn their villages then the rebels will not have any supplies so they'll have to move out to the neighbouring country."

Close to tears

Khalid, who at times appeared close to tears, deserted from the army in 2003 and has now left the country.

He says he may never be able to return now that he has spoken out.

But, I asked him, if he does go back, will he ever be forgiven by his own people for taking part in these attacks, even if he was forcibly recruited?

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, on 12 January 2009
Luis Moreno-Ocampo prepared the charge sheet
"Up until today they will never have known that it was me," he said.

"They will only know that I became a soldier. They wouldn't know what part I took. Even my family don't know where I am."

Over the last six years it is estimated that around 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur and a further 2.5 million have been forced to flee their homes.

President Omar al-Bashir and the Sudanese government have always denied that the country's army committed atrocities in the region or commissioned Janjaweed militia to do this on their behalf.

It is a claim they repeated firmly when the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo announced last summer he was seeking an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president.

But a nervous Khalid, who fears officials from the court might soon come looking for him, says he is in no doubt who bears full responsibility for the suffering in Darfur.

"Omar al-Bashir is in the chair," he said.

"He is the first person that is responsible for the genocide, of the killing of the children, of everything. He should never say that 'I did not kill and I don't know'.

"If you are head of the country then you are responsible for any crimes done by your soldiers. It is Bashir doing all these things."

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