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In Darfur, some Arabs now fight alongside rebels

Some Arabs fighters are growing so disenchanted with unfulfilled promises from Sudan's government that they're switching sides in the conflict.

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There was once only one reason for Tusher Mohamed Mahdi, a member of one of Darfur's many Arab tribes, to venture into the mountainous rebel enclave of Jebel Mara: to kill as many non-Arab guerrilla fighters and their supporters as possible.

Now he comes here to take orders.

Mr. Mahdi used to lead a band of 150 Arab fighters, part of the brutal janjaweed militia that fights as the Sudanese government's proxy army in the country's troubled Darfur region, which has seen more than 200,000 people killed and more than 2.5 million displaced since fighting erupted in 2003.

But like a growing number of Arab militia leaders now disenchanted with the Sudanese government, he has thrown in his lot with the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) rebel force, as Darfur's four-year conflict enters a new chapter.

"In the beginning we were proud to fight because the government was telling us that all this land would belong to us," he says over a glass of sweet, black tea in the small hillside town of Gorolang Baje.

"But later we discovered that would not be true."

Rebel leaders claim that dozens of janjaweed commanders are joining their struggle against the Sudanese government after promises of land, cattle, and money proved worthless.

In Jebel Mara they say 4,000 Arabs have bolstered their forces in the past year.

Darfur conflict not so simple

The deals undermine the simple narrative developed during four years of war: black African tribesmen pitted against an Arab-dominated government and their nomadic Arab allies, the janjaweed.

The truth has always been more complicated.

Many of the Arab tribesman in Darfur suffer from the same lack of development that led the rebels to take up arms in 2003.


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