DAKAR, (Reuters) – Sudanese Janjaweed militia along with local Chadian recruits shot or hacked to death more than 100 villagers in eastern Chad last month, an international human rights group said on Thursday.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, citing eyewitness testimonies and an on-site investigation, said the killings took place in four adjacent villages on April 12 and 13 at a time when Chadian rebels were moving west to attack the capital N’Djamena.
Humanitarian organisations have reported subsequent cross-border militia attacks into eastern Chad in May.
“Sudanese militiamen are moving further and further into Chad and are looting and killing Chadian villagers,” Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement sent to Reuters.
“Many of the attackers wore Sudanese uniforms but they’ve formed local alliances, and Chadians are also participating in the attacks,” he added.
Chad has frequently accused Sudan’s government of backing raids across its eastern frontier by Chadian rebels opposed to President Idriss Deby and by Arab militia bands who kill civilians and steal cattle. Khartoum denies this.
The April 13 violence was concentrated in the eastern Chadian village of Djawara, about 70 km (40 miles) west of Sudan’s Darfur region, where 75 people were reported to have been killed in just a few hours, HRW said.
It cited survivors saying villagers were surrounded and then gunned down or hacked to death with machetes by militiamen wearing blue Sudanese military fatigues and turbans.
“They came on horses and on foot … began to shoot at us. We defended as much as we could. We only had four Kalashnikovs [assault rifles] and arrows. They were too numerous and we were quickly overwhelmed. The Janjaweed kept shooting, looting, and destroying,” HRW quoted Ibrahim, a 45-year-old villager from Djawara, as telling its investigators.
HRW said that between April 12 and 13, Janjaweed militias also reportedly attacked three other villages in the vicinity — Gimeze, Singatao, and Korkosanyo — killing 43 people.
Witnesses described their attackers as Janjaweed, which in Arabic loosely translates as “devils on horseback” and is the name commonly used to describe Sudanese government-backed Arab militias in Darfur.
The killings took place before a peace deal signed earlier this month by Sudan’s government and the main rebel group in Darfur, where political and ethnic violence has killed tens of thousands of people since 2003, and spilled over into Chad.
The United Nations said on Tuesday Sudan was still failing to honour its commitments on human rights.
HRW said when its researchers visited Djawara in early May, they found many dried pools of blood staining the ground near the village.
The area was littered with bullet casings, rifle magazines, articles of clothing, and amulets commonly worn as protection against bullets.
Local villagers showed the investigators six mass graves nearby where they said they had buried victims.
Members of a village self-defense group in Djwara said they tried to fight off the attackers, using mostly bows and arrows and machetes, although a few villagers had automatic weapons.
“I was shot in the arm, and I fell down. After the shooting, the Janjaweed checked if we were dead. I pretended to be dead and didn’t move. After a few minutes they left the place,” Abdul, another villager from Djawara, told HRW.
“There are still many unanswered questions about these attacks, but the conclusion is clear: Chadian civilians are in dire need of protection,” said Takirambudde.