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The case for international justice as seen from Darfur
As told to Susan Elderkin

Published: July 26 2008 02:00 | Last updated: July 26 2008 02:00

Ahmed – not his real name – is a Sudanese interpreter for the International Criminal Court, working on its investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

I’m pleased they’ve issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. I’ve been to refugee camps in Chad three times as an interpreter for the ICC. I know exactly what evidence they’ve got, and it’s strong. But it’ll take time. For now it’s just talking.

My first trip to Chad was in 2006. It was the first time I’d been back to Africa since I fled to the UK as an asylum-seeker in 2001. I had been tortured, and members of my family were killed. Stepping off the plane in Enjamina, I had mixed emotions. I had never been to Chad before, but it looks pretty much like Darfur – flat and dry. It smelt of my childhood – dry grass, the smoke from cooking fires. And the people look the same – the men in long white djallabas, the women dressed in reds and oranges and yellows.

I’m from Darfur in western Sudan. The ICC needed people who speak the local languages in Darfur – Zagawa, Fur and Massaliet. I was travelling with a group of investigators – six or seven of them. They were from all over: Australia, Canada, France, Nigeria, Uganda. We never discussed the political situation, or what had happened to me. We had to remain strictly neutral. We talked about football.

We would set up a table and chairs in a temporary building in the refugee camps, or under a tree in the shade. Then we’d collect personal testimonies. We’d work from 11am until 4pm, the hot part of the day. Some of the investigators suffered in the heat, but I didn’t. Some had stomach trouble and had to be flown home. People were telling us things – many bad things. Villages being burnt, people being burned alive, buried alive, women and girls raped in front of their fathers. People being shot.

I could imagine it all because I had seen these things myself. Having to repeat everything I heard, word for word, was almost like experiencing it again. It was very hard. As an interpreter you can’t allow yourself to get emotional. Sometimes I had to ask for a break.

One day, one of the men from my father’s village came. I couldn’t believe how changed he was. The last time I saw him he was strong, upbeat. Now he was thin, grey, quiet; suffering on his face.

He didn’t know who I was. I said: “What happened to you that you can’t even remember my father?” When he remembered, he wept. “Life,” he said. “Life did this to me.”

The second time I was there, I found my mother in one of the camps. I hadn’t even known that she was alive. I gave her money and arranged for her to go back home. Now I speak to her every week on the phone.

Being an asylum-seeker in England was tough – the poverty, the isolation, the constant fear of being sent home. It taught me how to keep strong, not to let my anger come out. If I hadn’t been through this, I wouldn’t have been able to cope in Chad.

If the perpetrators are not brought to justice, it will be a complete failure on the part of the international community. Because so many crimes were committed, and the international community already failed once to protect innocent people.

The ICC gives hope to my people back home.

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8 Darfur rebels sentenced to death by Sudan court
By SARAH EL DEEB – 5 hours ago

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Eight Darfur rebels were found guilty and sentenced to death Tuesday for their roles in a bold assault on government soldiers near the Sudanese capital that killed more than 200 people, including dozens of civilians.

Another defendant was acquitted and a 10th was referred to a juvenile court because he was under age, said al-Dukhri Ali Morkaz, the head of the rebels' defense team. Morkaz said he would appeal the guilty verdicts handed down by a specially convened terrorism court in Khartoum.

Hundreds of fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, which has emerged as one of the most powerful Darfur rebel groups, staged the attack on Khartoum's twin city, Omdurman, on May 10.

The rebels were repelled, but Sudanese were shocked by the assault, which happened hundreds of miles from rebel bases in the west. The raid was the closest that Darfur's rebels have gotten to the seat of the government.

Sudan's defense minister said after the attack that 93 soldiers and 13 policemen died in the fighting along with 30 civilians. The bodies of at least 90 rebel also were found.

The verdicts Tuesday were the first since around 40 people went on trial in June on charges of waging war against the state, inciting hatred, possessing guns and belonging to an outlawed group. They are also accused of using official military uniforms and terrorizing civilians, Morkaz said.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has pardoned about 90 juveniles arrested after the attack. They are due to be released within two weeks. It is not clear how many more remain in detention.

JEM spokesman Ahmed Hussain denied the children were enrolled as fighters in the rebel group, and he described the four specially convened terrorism courts conducting the trials as unconstitutional.

The verdicts came two weeks after al-Bashir was charged by an international prosecutor with genocide and war crimes for his alleged role in the Darfur crisis.

Thirty other suspects in the May attack, including a senior JEM member, remain on trial. When the proceedings began in June, defense lawyers walked out, saying they were denied access to their defendants. The court then assigned a legal defense team.

JEM has emerged as the most effective rebel group in Darfur, where ethnic Africans took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in 2003 to fight discrimination.

Al-Bashir's government is accused of launching a punishing response and unleashing militia fighters who have carried out atrocities.

The United Nations estimates up to 300,000 people have died from the war and more than 2.7 million have been displaced. A U.N. peacekeeping force is trying to deploy in Darfur, but it has only about 9,500 soldiers and has been unable to improve the situation.

JEM said in a May statement said the attack on Omdurman was meant to draw attention to the bloody stalemate and encourage negotiations to resolve the crisis.

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Court Accuses Al-Bashir of Darfur War Crimes
  THE prosecutor of the n e w l y - e s t a b l i s h e d International Criminal Court (ICC) today accused Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir of genocide and war crimes arising out of the war in Darfur.

In a case which puts into sharp focus the sometimes competing demands of international humanitarian law and the political compromises into which states enter to secure peace, the ICC's prosecutor, Luis Moreno- Ocampo. presented evidence to the court at its seat in The Hague. An ICC press release said Moreno-Ocampo had decided after a three-year investigation that "there are reasonable grounds to believe that... [al-Bashir] bears criminal responsibility in relation to 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes."

He charged that al-Bashir "masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity." When the groups, which were resisting the marginalization of Darfur, rebelled and the government failed to defeat them, the Sudanese president "went after the people."

The ICC quoted Moreno- Ocampo as saying of al- Bashir: "His motives were largely political. His alibi was a 'counterinsurgency.' His intent was genocide." The prosecution said the Sudanese armed forces and the Janjaweed militia were acting on al-Bashir's orders in their five-year-long campaign of attacking and destroying villages. Moreno-Ocampo added: "By preventing the truth about the crimes from being revealed; concealing his crimes under the guise of a 'counterinsurgency strategy', or 'inter tribal clashes', or the 'actions of lawless autonomous militia', al- Bashir made possible the commission of further crimes. He promoted and provided impunity to his subordinates in order to secure their willingness to commit genocide." The prosecutor has asked a pre-trial chamber of the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir.

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02/08/2008 14:57 ENTEBBE, Uganda, Aug 2 (AFP)
Ugandan president says AU should probe Beshir over Darfur
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Saturday argued that the African Union (AU) should carry out its own probe into war crimes allegations against Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir.

"The correct position of the AU should be to investigate ourselves. We don't condemn the indictments but the AU should conduct investigations itself so that we decide on our own," Museveni told reporters in Entebbe.

"You may get people misbehaving. Is it Beshir who ordered them to do so?" Museveni asked, replying to a journalist's question.

"Suppose he made those mistakes," he added, warning against "ignoring the rights of the victims, the ones who have suffered."

International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo last month requested an arrest warrant be issued against Beshir over charges of war crimes in Sudan's war-torn western region of Darfur.

If accepted by the judges, the request would result in the first ever arrest warrant issued by the world tribunal against a sitting head of state.

The move drew an uneasy reaction from the African Union, which urged ICC judges to give Beshir more time and warned against the risks of further chaos in the conflict-ridden country.

Museveni added he believed that Sudan had also "committed war crimes by supporting the Lord's Resistance Army", the Ugandan rebel group Museveni's regime has been battling for two decades.

"The Lord's Resistance Army -- led by Joseph Kony, using bases in Sudan and with the backing of Khartoum government -- has caused untold suffering to millions of people in northern Uganda," he said.

LRA leader Kony and four of his top commanders were slapped with ICC arrest warrants in 2005 for raping and mutilating civilians, enlisting child soldiers and massacring thousands.

Museveni took power through a military coup in 1986, three years before Beshir seized power in Khartoum.

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August 5th, 2008
Turn of the screwdriver - genocide, justice or peace for Darfur?
Post a comment (1)Posted by: Louis Charbonneau
Tags: Global News, Bashir, Darfur, genocide, ICC, international criminal court, Sudan, The Hague, U.N., United Nations Security Council, war crimes

Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem says Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, is “a screwdriver in the workshop of double standards” for seeking to prosecute the president of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for genocide in Darfur.  He rejects the term genocide and says the prosecutor is unfairly picking on Africa’s largest country and ignoring war crimes elsewhere.

Moreno-Ocampo accuses Bashir of launching a genocide campaign in 2003 that was intended to wipe out three ethnic groups in Darfur, a desolate and remote region of western Sudan where oil was discovered in 2005. He says the Sudanese leader used mass murder, rape, deportation and “slow death” by starvation and disease to kill tens of thousands in Darfur.  Moreno-Ocampo wants the ICC judges to issue an international arrest warrant for Bashir.

Khartoum rejects the charges and says it will never hand over any of its citizens to The Hague, where the ICC is based. Like the United States, Russia and China, Sudan is not a party to the ICC, though the Security Council referred the issue of Darfur to the court in 2005.

Abdalhaleem says that if the judges decide to indict Bashir it will ignite a “curtain of fire” that will engulf all of Sudan and the region. He has yet to provide details, but U.N. peacekeeping officials say they are worried.

China, Russia, South Africa and others fear an indictment of Bashir would shatter the fragile peace process in Darfur and have vowed to push the Security Council to freeze the ICC investigation of Bashir. The United States, Britain, France and other Western powers say they do not want to tamper with the independence of the ICC and oppose intervening.

The African Union, the Arab League and non-aligned nations have also urged the council to suspend any ICC indictment of Bashir. Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin has said that the countries calling for a suspension comprise roughly two-thirds of the earth’s population.

Those arguing for a suspension say the top priority should be the full deployment of all 26,000 U.N.-African Union peacekeepers (only 9,500 are there now) and a swift end to the 5-year-old conflict in Darfur, in which international experts believe at least 200,000 have died, with another 2.5 million left hungry and homeless.

Richard Dicker, an international justice expert at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, says the opposite is true — nothing could be better for peace in Darfur than to indict, arrest and try the man believed to be responsible for orchestrating the genocide.

What do you think?  Is the West guilty of applying double standards for justice in the developing world?  Do you fear a “curtain of fire” in Africa if Bashir is indicted? Should the world push for peace in Darfur now and worry about indictments later?  Or should justice come first for the victims of war crimes in Darfur, whatever the cost?

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News Africa
Sudan army in 'Darfur operation' 
The UN says fighting has displaced up to two million people since 2003 [File: EPA]
The Sudanese army has begun a massive operation to destroy rebel bases in northern Darfur, according to two factions based in the area.

The army is said to have launched the offensive in the town of Wadi Atron, near the Sudanese-Libyan border, on Tuesday and took control of areas which had for years been under the control of rebels who want more autonomy for the region.

Al-Sayyid Sherif, of the Sudan Liberation Army (Unity) faction, said: "They attacked our areas in Wadi Atron with a massive force.

"We consider this a new declaration of war."

SLA (Unity) is one of the largest Darfur rebel groups and was one of the few factions to say they were ready to go to peace talks.

A Sudanese army spokesman declined to immediately comment, but one army source confirmed there were operations under way.

Suleiman Marajan, a commander from the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction, said: "They came with more than 200 vehicles and killed seven people."

The SLA was founded and is currently led by Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur.

The oil factor

Marajan also said that the government had moved in Chinese workers who were looking for oil in the remote area.

The Dow Jones newswire news agency reported last month that state-owned Chinese oil service companies were in talks to help Sudan exploit crude reserves in North Darfur where security would be provided by the Sudanese army.
North Darfur is part of the so-called Block12A, a site where oil is said to have been found, and is operated by Sudan's state-owned Sudapet, Ansan, an independent firm, and Saudi Arabia's Al-Qahtani group,  the article said.
The Sudanese oil ministry would not immediately confirm whether any exploration has begun in Block 12A.

Chinese companies dominate Sudan's budding oil sector which produces more than 500,000 barrels per day of crude.

Ocampo 'evidence'

In a related development, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, told Al Jazeera that the ICC maintains its right to investigate human-rights violations in Darfur despite Sudan not recognising the ICC's jurisdiction.

He said that he had clear evidence of abuses committed in Darfur, including certificates for more than a hundred people, and a clear map of villages and regions that were exposed to attacks.

Ocampo described the violations that took place in Darfur as a "scandal".

According to the UN, up to 300,000 people have died  and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since the conflict erupted in February 2003.

Sudan says 10,000 people have been killed.

The war began when African ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-led Khartoum government and state-backed Arab militias.

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Bush Urges China to Use Clout With Sudan on Darfur
By VOA News
11 August 2008

President George W. Bush
U.S. President George Bush says he has discussed the situation in Sudan's troubled Darfur region with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Mr. Bush said in a television interview Monday, with NBC at the Olympics in Beijing that he urged the Chinese president to take advantage of his relationship with the Sudanese president to help solve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

The U.S. president also said he delivered activist Joey Cheek's "Sudanese message" to Chinese officials.

Last week, China revoked the visa of U.S. Olympic speed-skating gold medalist Cheek. He is a co-founder of the activist group Team Darfur, which seeks to raise awareness of the violence in Darfur.

China's support for Sudan has been the source of worldwide criticism ahead of the Olympics.

China is a major investor in Sudan's oil industry and one of its biggest arms suppliers. Chinese officials say weapons sold to Sudan are not to be used in the Darfur conflict.

International experts say more than 200,000 people in Darfur have died and some 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes since local rebel groups rose up against the Sudanese government in 2003.

Sudan says Western governments and the media have exaggerated the scale of the conflict.


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Rebels accuse Sudanese army of new Darfur attacks
Sat 16 Aug 2008, 9:52 GMT
[-] Text
By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Darfur rebels accused Sudan's government of more attacks on Saturday, saying Khartoum was not serious about peace and was pursuing a military solution to the conflict.

Sudan's army denied the allegation and said its troops had fought off an ambush in an isolated incident.

 The joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in the remote region said it was checking the reports.

"The government army and militia attacked us yesterday in Abu Hamra and Kofod east of Kutum in North Darfur," Nimr Mohamed, spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army under Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, told Reuters from Darfur.

"The National Congress Party talks peace but in reality on the ground they are pursuing a military solution," he said on Saturday. He added that rebel and army forces were still in the area and he expected further clashes.

Two rebels were killed and many civilians were killed or wounded in the crossfire, he said.

A Sudanese army spokesman denied attacking, saying troops were accompanying a convoy of local officials when they were attacked by bandits on camels whom they fought off without any losses.

"These areas don't even belong to SLA Abdel Wahed," the spokesman said.

Since the International Criminal Court announced steps last month to indict President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes, he paid a defiant visit to Darfur calling for all rebel groups to attend peace talks.

The only faction that signed a largely unimplemented 2006 peace deal with Khartoum also accused the army of attacking its areas on Thursday.

"The government attacked us in Dorma, North Darfur...killing five of our troops," said Mohamed Drbeen, military spokesman for the SLA faction led by presidential adviser Minni Arcua Minnawi.

The army said it had no information on these clashes.

Rebels say this is part of a wider campaign by Khartoum before new peace efforts under new joint U.N.-African Union mediator Djibril Bassole.

This week, a massive army force seized control of rebel areas in the remote north of Darfur.

Before previous peace talks, government and rebel forces have launched attacks to control as much land as possible.

International experts estimate about 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing the central government of neglect.

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Bashir's accusation has forced Sudan to be responsive
By Hussein Solomon
Commentary by
Tuesday, August 19, 2008


In July 2008, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be accused by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. According to the charge sheet, Bashir "masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups" in Sudan's Darfur region. (It should also be noted that arrest warrants have already been issued by the ICC against Sudanese officials Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb for their involvement in the ongoing carnage in Darfur. Khartoum has refused to hand anyone over.) In this campaign of ethnic persecution, which began in February 2003, 300,000 lives have been lost and 2.2 million people have been displaced.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the ICC, laid out in stark detail the brutality of the war currently being waged in Darfur: "The most efficient method to commit genocide today in front of our eyes is gang rapes, rapes against girls and rapes against 70-year old women. Babies born as a result have been called Janjaweed babies and this has led to an explosion of infanticide. Bashir is executing this genocide without gas chambers, without bullets and without machetes. The desert will do it for them ... hunger is the weapon of this genocide as well as rape."

The mixed international reaction to these charges was predictable but still disappointing. Both the African Union and China made clear that they wanted the charges against the Sudanese president dropped, arguing that they would undermine any prospects for sustainable peace in the Sudan. Such arguments are fallacious in the extreme since, for some years, it has been increasingly evident that there is no peace to keep in Darfur; while the Sudanese government has also undermined the provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, thus risking war between the north and the south, as we have recently witnessed in the oil-rich town of Abyei. The position of the AU is wholeheartedly supported by Khartoum, which has been stressing flawed notions of "African solutions for African problems" despite knowing full well that the AU has neither the capacity nor the political will to deal with the likes of Bashir or Robert Mugabe. Moreover, the more than 4 million Congolese who have perished in the conflict in that blighted country eloquently reflect the AU's record in conflict resolution.

As for Beijing's complicity in shielding Sudan's president from international justice, the significant trade relationship between Sudan and China hardly needs to be pointed out. Sudan is one of China's main exporters of oil. China, meanwhile, is a major arms supplier to Sudan.

The European Union, together with various international non-governmental organizations, has been generally supportive of the ICC and the charges against Bashir. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have made it clear that Sudan should comply with the decisions of the ICC. Meanwhile, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been supportive of the ICC decision, believing that it is "an important step towards ensuring accountability for human rights violations in Sudan."

What has been disappointing in the pursuit of international justice is the reaction from the United Nations and the United States. The UN secretary general has distanced the UN from the ICC, noting that the court is not a part of the UN. As for the US, while it has agreed that war criminals should be exposed and brought to trial, it is hesitant to allow the ICC's jurisprudence to extend over any heads of state.

This is an unfortunate position. If the US wants to be taken seriously as a superpower intent on promoting human freedom and democracy, then this ambiguity has to end. A good place to start would be to be a part of the ICC. Historically, we have seen how the absence of the US from the League of Nations after World War I damned that organization to irrelevance. With the likes of Moscow and Beijing supporting Bashir, it is morally incumbent upon Washington to stand up for the morality and the ideals it so loudly proclaims.

The most interesting reaction, however, emanates from Khartoum itself. In the immediate aftermath of the charges being announced, Sudan reacted furiously, with a senior official threatening to turn Darfur into a graveyard. However, it is clear that Bashir has been rattled by the charges and has engaged in a multi-pronged offensive. The first front was a diplomatic offensive targeting Sudan's allies in the Arab League and the AU to help pressure the ICC not to go ahead with the charges, as well as seeking and getting the support it needed from Beijing. The second front of the offensive was to mend ties with Sudan's western neighbor Chad, after Khartoum accused Ndjamena of backing a rebel attack on its capital in May 2008.

The third front of the offensive was internal. During the course of July and August, the Sudanese president reached out to the political opposition in Khartoum, sought to foster closer ties with the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the south, embarked on a tour of Darfur and promised various development projects to alleviate the lot of the people there. Thus, whatever the international reaction to the ICC charges is, they are already creating a more responsive posture on the part of Khartoum to its long-suffering people - something the US with its sanctions and the UN with its moral authority have thus far been unable to do.

Hussein Solomon lectures in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, where he is also director of the Center for International Political Studies (CiPS). This commentary first appeared at, an online newsletter.

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Sudanese: 'What Arab-African rift?'
In Sudan's Arab north, Arabs marry, go to school, and work side by side with Africans from Darfur. The divide portrayed in the West means little to people here.
By Heba Aly | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
from the August 22, 2008 edition

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Dongola, Sudan - Ask Abbas Adam Ibrahim whether he is Arab or African, and he does not quite know how to respond. "Both," the Sudanese man says, after slight hesitation.

Mr. Adam comes from the Fur tribe, of Darfur – commonly understood to be an African tribe, under persecution by Sudan's Arab-dominated government.

Last month, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, saying "evidence shows that al-Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity."

But for Sudanese Arabs and Africans coexisting peacefully outside Darfur, these racial distinctions are not so clear.

Adam, for example, believes he has some Arab blood.

During the drought of the early 1980s, Adam left Darfur for the mostly-Arab north of Sudan, in search of work and a better life. He settled in Dongola, a city more than 300 miles north of the capital, Khartoum, and has lived among Arabs ever since. He even married one and now has four "mixed" children.

"We live here peacefully and there are no problems," he says. "We live as if we are natives here. We feel that this is our country and this is our town."

Around the corner, at a small Darfurian social club, the atmosphere is loud and buoyant. Young men gather around tables playing cards, slamming down dominoes excitedly, and watching television. They are mostly economic migrants who left Darfur years ago. Among them are members of various tribes that are killing each other back in Darfur and in neighboring Kordofan State.

"There is no such thing as Arab or African. We are all Sudanese," says Mohammed El-Cheikh an Arab from Western Kordofan. "Him over there," he says, pointing across the yard to a young man standing shyly in the corner, "that's my friend Abubakr. He's from the [African] Tama tribe.

"There are problems in Darfur, but they are not between people. They are related to the government and to politics."

In scores of markets, clubs, and homes in the Arab north, Arabs and Africans are working side by side, sending their children to the same schools and intermarrying. The Arab-African distinction that has played out so broadly in media coverage of Darfur means little to people here.

In fact, historians say the distinction has no factual basis. There is a long tradition of intermarrying between the Arab and African tribes that settled in what is now Sudan.

"No single tribe in Sudan can claim it is purely African or Arab," says history teacher and mayor of the greater Dongola locality Bushra Mohamed Saleh. "They are all mixed."

And while some tribes may be more Arab or more African, coexistence between them is nothing new. Even in Darfur, different tribal groups lived together for centuries. So-called Arab nomadic tribes and African farming communities shared the same land – the nomads using it for their cattle to graze; the farmers using it to grow their crops. Conflicts arose routinely but were solved through traditional leaders.

Things changed early this millennium when traditional leaders lost their control, guns became more commonplace, and a group of non-Arab Darfurians took up arms against the government, arguing that their region had been neglected.

In responding to this rebellion, the government made a "big, big, big mistake," says Gen. Hassan Hamadain, who governed West Darfur State during the late 1990s.

It called upon popular defense forces from local communities to combat the Darfur rebels. But those who responded were mostly Arabs, many of whom joined the now infamous janjaweed militia that is accused of razing hundreds of African villages, looting, raping, and killing along the way.

"The government made use of the conflict in Darfur in a kind of non-thoughtful way," says General Hamadain, who has since retired from politics, acknowledging that he and others failed in Darfur. "It was not sensitive to the tribal relationships, the tribal history of the area, and the resources."

And so what began as normal, cyclical conflicts between mostly Arab herders and non-Arab farmers grew to what has been termed the world's largest humanitarian disaster. The United Nations says some 300,000 have died and 2.5 million have been displaced.

Among the dead were members of Hassan Ali Ibrahim's village, which was completely destroyed by Arabs. But he says he can't hold them all responsible.

"The disputes between the Arabs and people in Darfur originate from different reasons – grazing, pastures, natural things. They are not rooted in race," said the community elder, sitting under a tree at the Islamic school he manages in Dongola, where both Arab and African children sit side by side. "The Arabs that are here have nothing to do with this."

Still, for some Darfurians, it is not so easy to forget. Daoud (not his real name) watched with his own eyes as members of his family were killed by Arab militias in West Darfur. After the first attack on his village, he found his father dead. He says he does not blame the Arabs – "Who supported them? Who gave them the guns? Wasn't it the government?" – but he still has difficulty getting too close.

"I can interact with Arabs at work or in general ways, but when it comes to close relationships, I feel there is a wall between us."

British analyst Jago Salmon says this social polarization – a result he blames partly on simplistic descriptions by Western Darfur advocates – has been an unfortunate consequence of the conflict, but was never its root.

"We were still looking for dichotomy of some kind, something that would explain what was going on easily and simply. We latched onto the Arab-African dichotomy, which did vast damage…. Then as the conflict developed, it became a reality on the ground. It became something by which people explained the conflict themselves."

But as the conflict continues in Darfur – 180,000 have fled their homes this year alone, according to the UN – Adam will wake up next to his Arab wife every morning, Ali will teach his Arab students, and plenty of other African Darfurians will keep living alongside Arabs, wishing the politics would cease and their tribes could go back to life as usual.