Dodging Antonovs in Darfur
It wasn’t much more than a speck. A tiny, white fleck in the wide blue sky above us. Our 4×4 lurched to a halt as Yahia, the driver, peered through the 10 inches of windscreen scraped clean of the mud that camouflaged the rest of the vehicle. Then we were off again, lurching over the rutted earth of North Darfur in a straight line for the nearest cover: nothing more than a spindly thorn tree.
We parked up with the car barely hidden by the branches and the three rebels and I sat down in the dust, shaded by other trees.
The Antonovs were out hunting. After guerrillas with the Justice and Equality Movement seized the town of Kornoi the government planes were out on the hunt every morning and evening. We had been spotted. Maybe it was a glint from the RPG launcher hanging from the wingmirror or the plume of dust that we kicked up pelting helter-skelter through the desert. Either way the Antonov high above was turning in tighter and tighter circles overhead.
I’d seen them before but always flying in a straight line, on their way from A to B. This was different. It was homing in on a target – us. After 30 long minutes staring at the dot above us, we were off again. No more than about half a mile to another patch of cover, where we sat again before doubling back in a deadly game of hide and seek.
Sudan’s Antonovs are old. And pretty ineffective. Their crude bombs are simply rolled out the back without much in the way of aiming. But that doesn’t matter. Their main weapon is fear. And as we sat under the gnarled thorn trees of North Darfur suddenly I realised what it must be like to live in one of the scattered villages here, having to hear the Antonovs drone each day and wondering whether I’m going to be lucky or not.