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Inside a Darfur refugee camp

A story from Sudan's conflict area of killings, blood money and elections.

An internally displaced woman smiles while members of the Jordanian peacekeeping forces from the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) patrol at Abu Shouk IDP's camp for internally displaced people in Al Fasher, northern Darfur April 14, 2010. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

KASS, Sudan — Hundreds of Darfuris fled violence in their home villages to seek shelter in Kass, a camp for displaced people. But they found little peace.

In February, gunmen riding horses and camels invaded the village of approximately 80,000 inhabitants, raiding the thatched huts and seizing people without explanation, according to the displaced residents. The invaders beat people, tied them up and pushed them in the gutters while making their way through the camps.

Eighteen residents of the camp were taken captive, including Sheik Sidig, the chief of the attacked camps. The prisoners were ordered to pay “diya,” also known as blood money, for a Sudanese police officer who was killed at the camp two days earlier.

According to the locals, blood money often plays a significant role as a form of compensation to solve intertribal issues, particularly murder cases like this.

“When I got out of my place, I found the streets filled with gunmen. I ran into a man, who said to me, ‘Your people killed someone and we want you to pay the blood money,’” said Sheik Sidig.

The sheik protested that the camp should not have to pay blood money, because the policeman had been shot and no one in the camp had a gun.

The attacker’s response was clear: “If you don’t pay, your camps will be destroyed.”

The camp leaders reported to the police that the gunmen killed two people and injured five by gunfire and 84 by being beaten with sticks.

The militia group stormed into the market and set fire to numerous shops. Within 10 minutes, the nearly 1,000-square-meter souk was engulfed in flames and more than 350 stalls and stands were burned down.

Three days later this problem was presented to the United Nations when a convoy of 18 vehicles from the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) pulled over to check up on the village as part of its five-day road trip, which was conducted to examine the security situation in Darfur’s remote areas. The fleet, carrying more than 60 UNAMID staff members, had departed from its headquarters in El Fasher, north Darfur, stayed overnight in Nyala, south Darfur, and was on its way to the final destination of Zalingei in west Darfur.

Spearheading this 310-mile patrol was Micheal Fryer, UNAMID’s police commissioner, who was welcomed by more than 40 turbaned men in white robes representing the Albatery Internally Displaced Persons camp in Kass.