Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the state of Southern Darfur, western Sudan, say their camp was looted and burned by Arab militiamen on 4 April, but this was denied by a government official in the state capital, Nyala.
The camp, home to thousands of Dinkas - an ethnic group from southern Sudan - is located on the edge of Abu Ajurah, a village about 40 km from Nyala. Almost all of it was burned by Janjawid - Arab militias - several of the IDPs told IRIN in Nyala. "We are targeted because we are black," a Dinka teacher claimed. "The Janjawid said: ‘We don’t want any black skin here."
The government Humanitarian Aid Commissioner (HAC) in Nyala, Jamal Yusuf Idris, denied that the Dinka were targeted. He confirmed to IRIN that a group of "Arabs" had burned down houses belonging to members of the Fur ethnic group in Abu Ajurah and killed eight people, but said it was because the Fur were accused of killing two Arabs.
"The Dinka were not attacked at all, they have no reason to worry," he said.
Abu Ajurah was traditionally home to a mixture of communities, with Fur (Darfur means "home of the Fur" in Arabic) Arab and Dinka living side by side. The Dinka include about 200,000 people displaced from neighbouring Bahr al-Ghazal region in the 1980s by government-backed murahilin (nomad) militias.
Conflict broke out in Abu Ajurah on 28 March, when armed Janjawid went to the village to attack the Fur, a Dinka sultan [chief], told IRIN in Nyala. "The Janjawid went to the Fur area of the village. First they started shooting, the Fur started running towards the Dinka camp, then they started burning the village," he said. He was not sure how many people were killed, but suggested about 20.
The Janjawid chased the Fur into the Dinka camp, where they killed two of them, he added. "They found two Fur men and killed them: one by shooting, the other with an axe. They hit him with an axe on the neck, he fell down, and then they finished him off with a knife."
The Janjawid then looted the Dinka camp, taking clothes, beds, watches, goats and donkeys - anything they could find, he said. Those who resisted were beaten up.
Between 2 April and 5 April, the majority of the Dinka fled from Abu Ajurah. They organised 23 trucks, each carrying between 100 and 150 Dinka, to take them and their possessions to Nyala.
After the initial attack against the Fur, Janjawid had loitered outside the village to intimidate people, the Dinka leaders told IRIN. Arab community leaders intervened and were able to ensure that the Fur and Dinka had access to water, but then the Janjawid threatened the leaders, according to the IDPs.
"The community leaders were told to stop helping us, or they would be classified as supporters of blacks. The Janjawid stayed on the edge of the town close to the water source. By Friday [2 April], we were unable to access water outside the village because of harassment, so we had to leave," said a Dinka teacher.
The Arabs in the village were able to move about and collect water freely, according to the IDPs.
The Janjawid tried to prevent the trucks leaving on 3 April, but "the Arab driver assured them that all the passengers were Dinka, not Fur, so they let them through after looting them," said the chief.
On 4 April, the Janjawid again tried to stop them leaving, but let them pass after the army intervened and escorted them to Nyala. On Monday, however, the trucks were again looted, despite their military escort.
By Tuesday, the Dinka were gathered on the southern and northwestern outskirts of Nyala town, in a church compound and a "social institution", where they had practically no access to water.
Last week, several hundred Janjawid equipped with vehicles, Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and modern communications equipment also arrived in Nyala. They have been camped among the trees just outside the town in a locality called Kundawa, where their camels graze freely.
The number of people displaced to Nyala has tripled in the last three weeks, from about 4,000 to 12,000. The frequency and intensity of attacks, the number of people displaced, and human rights abuses in Southern Darfur have been increasing by the day, according to the UN.
In the current climate, the Dinka remain uncertain of where they will be safe. They say that, ideally, they want to return to Bahr al-Ghazal, but have no means of getting there.
A local commissioner in Nyala told them they should not have moved from Abu Ajurah, accusing them of "complicity" with the Fur because they had fled, the sultan told IRIN. "The Fur are evacuating; if you do the same, you share their views," he quoted the commissioner as saying.
"I think they [the Dinka] need to go back," the HAC in Nyala, Jamal Yusuf Idris, told IRIN.
For now, their most important need is protection. Many of the 15 camps for displaced Dinka in the region, and the homes of tens of thousands of others living in mixed communities, are in areas the Janjawid have been accused of clearing.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Sudanese government of recruiting over 20,000 Janjawid, paying, arming and supplying them with uniforms. It has also accused the Sudanese army of conducting joint operations to clear areas inhabited by non-Arabs from the same ethnic groups - mainly Fur, Zaghawah and Masalit - as rebels operating in the region.
"The government of Sudan has denied the existence of this situation and refused to provide protection or assistance to the affected populations of Darfur," HRW reported last week.
Neimad Bilal, press attache at the Sudanese embassy in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, rejected the HRW report. "I have seen it, but it is all lies, nothing but lies," she told IRIN shortly after the report was released.