For Sudan Slaves, Freedom at a Cost

Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times, Mar. 29

MALUAL KON, Sudan—The map of Majok’s life is carved on his body in scars. They trace the vicious beatings, his castration, the time he was left hanging by a rope around his neck. But grief and trauma have erased nearly every other scrap of his boyhood story.

He has no idea of his age or his family name. From his initiation marks and coloring, it is obvious he is a member of the dominant Dinka tribe of southern Sudan. But he says he is an Arab and that the man who kept him as a slave in northern Sudan is his father.

“I do not know whether I am an adult or a child,” he said, puzzled, as a small crowd of villagers here snickered at his confusion. Bereft of his identity, family or home, he can imagine nothing of his future except that, his manhood stolen from him, he can never marry. He hangs his head in silent distress at this thought.

“All I do is eat and sleep, eat and sleep,” said Majok, who was brought to southern Sudan in January by the Commission for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children, or CEAWC, an organization set up by the Sudanese government in 1999 after an international outcry over the enslavement of southerners by northerners, who speak Arabic and identify themselves as Arabs.

The deal signed in January ending a 21-year civil war between Sudan’s mainly Muslim north and predominantly animist and Christian south has opened the way for a surge in the return of slaves from the country’s north. CEAWC plans to bring back 7,000 abductees this year, almost 10 times the number it brought last year.

Sudan was notorious for slavery until it was conquered by Britain in the 19th century. But the practice was revived in the mid-1980s during the civil war when the Arab-dominated government armed militias known as murahaleen to fight the southern rebels, much as they more recently have armed militias against rebels in Darfur in the country’s west.

The murahaleen were given free rein to raid villages, steal cattle, kill men, rape women and abduct southerners, including thousands of children, as slaves.

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No one is sure how many people have been abducted into slavery, nor how many remain enslaved. A 2003 study by the Rift Valley Institute, based in London and Kenya, documented 12,000 abductions by name, 11,000 people still unaccounted for and 5,000 killings.

CEAWC says that 20,000 people were abducted, and estimates there also are at least 20,000 children born to slaves. Spokesman Aguer said CEAWC and the Dinka Committee, a group of activists in the north, had returned 4,000 slaves from 1989 to 2004.

But a Swiss-based religious group, Christian Solidarity International, frequently cites claims by southern community leaders that 200,000 people were abducted and says it has bought and freed 80,000 of them.

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