By Staff Reporter
In the hills and caves of Jebel Marra, a fifth term for President Bashir – in office since 1989 – means civilians must continue to live in terror of government bombing
A fourth landed only a few metres from Adam’s hiding place. The blast wave blew him through the wattled walls of his house, the heat incinerating his clothes and melting the outer layers of his skin.
His mother, Fatima Musa, found him in the wreckage of their home, drawn to her son by his screams. Two weeks later in Burgu – a collection of mud and thatched homes, typical of the villages of Darfur in the troubled west of Sudan – Adam’s skin was still a patchwork of burns.
Women make tea next to where they sleep in a cave above the town of Sarong in Central Darfur (Adriane Ohanesian)
Burgu’s ordeal is not unusual: people across the mountainous area of Jebel Marra in Western Sudan say they have faced regular bombardment by their own government, led by Omar al-Bashir.
On Monday, Mr Bashir, who has ruled Sudan with an iron fist since 1989, was declared the winner of the country’s presidential “election” – a farcical vote that saw his fifth term rubber-stamped by a poll with no one from any independent opposition party running against him.
The 71-year-old leader took 94 per cent of the vote in the presidential election and his National Congress Party (NCP) won 323 of 426 parliamentary seats.
While Mr Bashir celebrates his victory, Adam and hundreds of others living in the caves of Darfur despair of ever returning to their homes.
It is now 12 years since the world first learned of a brutal campaign by Sudan which pitted government forces and the notorious Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, against a string of rebel forces drawn from African ethnic groups such as the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit.
A rebellion that began in response to a central government that sold its oil to build modern cities on the Nile for its riverine Arab supporters, while impoverishing the diverse peoples of its periphery, drew such a murderous response that some critics declared a genocide. As many as three million people have been displaced by the counter-insurgency while half a million have been killed.
Horrifying accounts of human rights abuses in Darfur saw Mr Bashir indicted by the International Criminal Court and slapped with sanctions. But a determined effort to prevent aid workers, the UN and journalists from accessing large parts of Darfur has seen the conflict disappear from the headlines, even as the violence has continued.
High up on steep slopes of the Jebel Marra the roads disappear and the trails become narrower. Cars cannot pass and even donkeys have trouble crossing some passes and trails.
Adam Abdel, age 7, was badly burned by a bomb(Adriane Ohanesian)
The only way for The Telegraph to gain access was to travel with the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), one of the almost 30 rebel groups seeking to overthrow the regime in Khartoum. The mountainous heart of Darfur is one of the last outposts of rebel control. Tens of thousands of refugees live here, according to the respected independent community broadcaster, Radio Dabanga.
Ruthless and indiscriminate bombing runs have driven people to take shelter into the warrens of caves high above the valleys. Half an hour’s climb above the town of Sarong, Thuraya Adam Abdel-Razeg, 32, a mother of eight children, emerges from her cave. Her home was demolished by a barrage of bombs that levelled her village of Dorsa. With the fields below lying fallow, she says, famine will be next.
In this war, the rebels can hold their ground largely thanks to the advantage of the terrain. From an SLA foxhole, rebel soldiers train their binoculars on the Sudanese government troops across the valley. The rebels are a rag-tag outfit, most of them not long out of their teens. Some wear uniforms, others raincoats covering colourful T-shirts that hint at their youth. Everyone sports a turban.
Should they lose their foothold in the Jebel Marra, then slaughter will follow, a local rebel commander says. Beyond their mountain stronghold, the region’s towns and most of the villages are under government control and the rebels can only move through smuggling routes.
Rebel soldiers from the Sudan Liberation Army (Adriane Ohanesian)
While the men still gamely employ words like revolution, democracy and victory, the real question is how long they will survive.
The beleaguered ICC, which has watched its highest profile cases stall or fail, suspended its investigation into war crimes in Darfur last year. The indictment that has hung over President Bashir since 2009 made a pariah of the man who came to power in a military coup, but it also made it necessary for him to hang on to power for as long as he can.
“I will only go back to my village when Bashir stops bombing us,” said Mariam Taja Muhammed, a widow living in the cave. “Until then, I stay here and look death in the eye.”