Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ghost rebels

I have to confess that I wasn’t really sure that the Chadian rebels exist. Of course I knew they’d been responsible for high profile attacks on Chad many times before, and I’d even seen footage of them riding through the streets of N’Djamena in February 2008. But legend holds that the turbaned warriors just melt like a mirage into the desert from where they came.

The rebels look like ghosts. Each face carries a hunted look as they sit under the gun butts of their Chadian army captors. Few had washed, even to rinse the sand from their faces, wild, dread-locked hair and ear-holes. Layer upon layer of bleached yellow dust on each trembling body makes them appear blurred and indistinct, faded like in an old sepia photograph. Neglected droplets of blood trickle down some faces, mixing with the dirt into a coagulated tarry mess, yet hardly a murmur escapes from the crowd.

The dead rebels, face-down in the sand where they fell, have gone back to the spirit world which so badly let them down. Each wears a traditional gri gri protection amulet. The bodies are just asleep, surrounded by oily, bubbled pools of dark blood. Even the cars are shapes I’ve never seen before – the angel of death passed over the fighting, leaving his mark on their sinister black camouflage.
Deep in the dark night of N’Djamena, where flickering street lamps weakly cut through the settling debris of the day, the rebel convoy is on the move again. The camouflage disguises their slow, shuddering progress. Their headlights are hanging off, doors dented, windscreens smashed. They will be left in the street like giant metal gravestones. Testament to the defeat of the rebels who have once again vanished into the dunes.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Zara Djibril

Horror Stories from Central African Republic

Haroun Daoud, 25 years old, resident of Zokoumba.

It was 1st February, about 11 in the morning. Suddenly a number of soldiers came by foot into the village. They came up to the school and said good morning to the people. A few minutes later the military vehicles arrived. When the women saw the trucks they started running into the bush with the children. Some of them were caught by soldiers who were gathering behind the houses.

They gathered all the men of the village together under the mango trees. They asked the village chief where the rebels were. He said he hadn’t seen the rebels. He said he knew they had come from Bria and that they had a base somewhere near Akoulsoubak but they never came into Zokoumba.

Then there was a long discussion between the soldiers and the men. The soldiers wanted to know why the women were preparing food in the middle of the village. The women were peeling millet and things like that. The chief said that a child had died and they were preparing for the burial, but the government soldiers thought that the women were making food to give to the rebels.

So they took the men and made them take their clothes off, and they tied them to the mango trees. They asked for the village chief, the teacher and the iman to identify themselves. Eventually they did.

They started by taking the teacher, Mahamat Idriss. They killed him with two shots. After that, Commander Abdoulaye, the leader of the soldiers, took the village chief, Abdelkader Zakaria. He killed him by shooting him through both eyes - the bullets came out of the back of his head. Then he shot Saleh, another leader, and then cut off his head. I don’t know where he took the head. Another elder was killed by being knifed in the stomach.

Then he told the soldiers to kill the rest of the men who were still under the mango trees. They shot them all, they didn’t hesitate. After they all fell down, Commander Abdoulaye went among the bodies, if anyone was moving then he shot them again to make sure they were dead. They killed twenty one people. Two people managed to survive with injuries. I was hiding inside my house the whole time with my child, but I saw it happen. They didn’t find me.

Zara Djibril, 40 years old, mother of 8, resident of Zokoumba

One morning we were in the village and the soldiers arrived. I was with some of my children and as soon as I saw them coming I ran to hide behind my house under some trees. But I could still see everything that happened.

They gathered all the men together and asked for the village chief, the iman and the teacher. Stand up! Stand up! They said. The men presented themselves. Commander Abdoulaye told his men to split all the villagers up, take their clothes off and tie them to the mango trees. He kept asking where are the rebels? Where are the rebels?

The commander Abdoulaye killed the village chief himself, he shot him in the head and he fell down. The gun I think it was what they call an AK. They started killing the other men. Some more soldiers arrived from the other side of the village and they had big, heavy weapons (rocket launcher according to translator). They started firing on the villagers with these. The guns just went boom, boom, boom. I covered my ears. Two more men were killed like that.

I saw it all with my own eyes. I was terrified. I couldn’t move. I thought they were going to come into my house and kill all of us. The children were asking me what was happening. I didn’t know what to say to them. They wanted to run away but there were soldiers everywhere. We had to wait until it was all over.

I don’t know why this happened in our village.