Darfurians Admit Exaggerating Conflict
Ismail Kamal Kushkush, IOL Correspondent
Many translators and witnesses admitted fabricating stories and exaggerating information about the Darfur conflict. (IOL photo)
ADDIS ABABA Many Darfurians are coming out to admit being engaged in providing exaggerated numbers and false information to foreign journalists and international investigation teams visiting refugee camps in Chad.
"We are sons of Darfur with direct connections to what is happening in the region," Sulayman Ahmad Hamid, a former member of the rebel Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), told several Sudanese and foreign reporters.
"We helped provide international investigation teams with translators and witnesses," he said, citing cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Darfur in Focus
"We told witnesses being questioned to exaggerate the number of victims killed or raped in Darfur."
The Darfur conflict broke out in 2003 when rebels took up arms against the Khartoum regime accusing it of discrimination.
The UN says that 300,000 have died as a result of war, disease and malnutrition, but the Sudanese government has put the number at nearly 10,000.
No independent field-research accounts are available to date.
In March, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir charging him with committing war-crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Hamid and many others are members of a new group calling itself the National Group to Correct the Track on the Darfur Crisis (NGCTDC).
"As a rebellion we had hoped to achieve gains for the people of Darfur," says Kamal al-Din Ali, the general secretary of NGCTDC.
"But today, Darfur is a source of income for many groups and an excuse to implement foreign agendas."
Ali affirmed that his group upheld the right of Darfurians for justice and compensation, but rejected exaggerated stories about the war.
"This does not mean we will give up on the rights of our people. But we will not be part of agendas that seek to divide Sudan like Yugoslavia or Iraq"
"We will not be part of agendas that seek to divide Sudan like Yugoslavia or Iraq," said Ali. (IOL photo)
Salah Muhammad Mansur, a pharmacist by t raining, fled to Chad when the war broke out in 2003 and joined the SLM/A in the Chadian capital N'djamena.
There, Mansur worked as a translator for visiting journalists, activists and investigation teams.
"In late May 2004, I worked as a translator for the American organization Coalition for International Justice (CIJ)," he recalled.
"We visited Hajr Hadeed, Kharshana and Daga camps. When we questioned a refugee how many people were killed in your village, if they said ten, I would tell the investigator 200," Mansur admitted.
"If they asked how many women were raped, if they said ten, I would tell them to say 200
"If the refugee said they were attacked by the Janjaweed, I would tell them no, say that government forces also provided help from behind."
The Janjaweed=2 0are a militia accused of having ties to the government of Sudan.
Mansur explains why he and other Darfurian translators opted to exaggerate information for visiting journalists and investigation teams.
"We were mad at that government at the time because of what had happened.
"Plus, we were simply employees, the weather was hot, the terrain was harsh and we wanted to get our work done."
Ismail Muhammad Yusuf was a witness to an attack carried out by the Janjaweed in the village of Shataya in 2004 and later fled to Chad.
He recalls that in June 2005, three investigators came and asked him how many people were killed in his village.
"I said 116-177, but the translator then argued that these investigators came from far places, so you must give a greater number, say 300."
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