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Best Paragraphs In Sunday Newspaper Deal With Darfur

December 21, 2008

The dynamics in Darfur are changing, and no one can say that they were not predicted, and not now easily understood.  The young men who have grown up through genocide, and currently displacement in refuge camps are becoming vocal, and in some cases violent, all in an attempt to level the playing field and stop the Arab dominated Sudanese government from orchestrating even more atrocities.  There is also a justified anger, and a need for justice among these young people.

The same political phenomenon among the young has taken place in the Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank due to Israeli violence.  There is a progression both political and social that takes places in the minds and hearts of those who live through such upheaval.  Though in some cases they undermine the efforts at resolving the larger issues, they also can give an energetic boost to making sure that there be accountability for the ones who perpetrated the wrongs.  On the whole, I think these more radicalized elements serve a greater good. 

The youths are known collectively as the “shabab,” the Arabic word for young men. And they have become a vehemently pro-rebel political force in the camps for the 2.7 million people displaced by years of war between the Arab-dominated Sudanese government and rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Increasingly angry and outspoken about their uncertain fate, the generation that came of age in the camps is challenging the traditional sheiks, upending the age-old authority structure of their tribal society and complicating efforts to achieve peace.

The shabab, strident in their politics, watch warily for any sign of compromise with the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is being sought by an international prosecutor on charges of genocide and war crimes against the people of Darfur. Humanitarian officials suspect there are jails that the shabab help run in the camps, and that they mete out punishment like whippings to transgressors.

At Zalingei, United Nations officials have learned to give traditionalsheiks 24 hours’ notice before any gathering outside the camps so that the sheiks can seek approval from elected shabab representatives.

The Zalingeipolice chief, a member of the Fur clan that dominates the camp, actually has relatives inside. But when he attends a wedding or other family gathering he has to drive his own car because the sight of his officialvehicle might spark a riot, the United Nations official said.

During a recent tour of Hamidiya camp by top United Nations officials, Shafiq Abdullah, 33, a shabab leader, lambasted a Sudanese reporter from Khartoum as a government stooge and became so vehement that the United Nations deployed security forces around them.

Mr. Abdullah reeled off four prerequisites before the shabab in any camp would agree to negotiations between Darfur rebels and the government: disarming the government militias; prosecuting those responsible for war crimes, starting with Mr. Bashir; expelling anyone who settled on land stolen from the displaced farmers; and carrying out all United Nations Security Councilresolutions on Darfur.

“We organize protest marches against anyone who says we should negotiate with the government for the sake of Darfur,” Mr. Abdullah said in an interview. “I speak out for the sake of our case, even if I have to die.” Sheiks can no longer guarantee that they can win over men like Mr. Abdullah.

“The traditional structure of authority is beginning to break down,” said a Western diplomat in Khartoum, the capital, with wide experience in the camps. “The rebel leaders can no longer control the population through the sheiks.”

With about 80,000 residents, Kalma is among the largest and most volatile of the camps. When a group of high-ranking United Nations officials were inspecting a water pumping station there in late November, Mohamed Ahmed Ismael, a gangly 20-year-old, waded in among them.

“We are not free in Kalma!” Mr. Ismael shouted, pronouncing his words syllable by syllable in English learned in the camp school and gesticulating like the lawyer he aspires to become. “Look at our sheiks; they are not free! The security can come into Kalma at any time!”

Education in the camps, which often stops at the eighth grade, has to a degree expanded the horizons of men like Mr. Ismael. English was not taught in their now-razed villages, for instance. But their heightened awareness has also stoked their outrage about the wrongs committed against them and about their lack of opportunity.

You cannot call them a unified group with one political ideology, but they are all angry,” said Mr. Khater, the writer. “That is the factor unifying them.”

Leaving the shabab feeling isolated, without hope for the future, would be dangerous, he added, since the youth may “support any kind of violent acts.”

The expense of maintaining the camps is phenomenal. Of the $7 billion in donations the United Nations is seeking for emergency relief worldwide in 2009, $1 billion is for Darfur.

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