In Event of Attack First Remove Tie
This post is a couple of days old, for reasons I may explain once I am out of Darfur with no possible risk of arrest…
“So should we be worried?” I asked the man sitting across the table from me at the Humanitarian Aid Commission in El Fasher, North Darfur. He didn’t answer. Instead, he dashed to the windows at the back of the office closing the shutters as the sound of gunfire drew nearer. Then it dawned on me. As a senior government official in this war-torn town, the HAC commissioner was a likely target of whoever was moving through the market outside. His office was not the place to be.
The commissioner clearly thought so too. After a hurried consultation with his assistant he raced for the door, pausing only to remove his natty red tie. In a town where the jalabiya is the main mode of dress, the tie means only one thing – government official.
By now the pop-pop of AK-47s had been replaced by heavier calibre guns. The security services were moving into the market which sprawls all around the HAC compound, placing me – and the commissioner’s empty office – at the centre of a firefight.
Escaping into the market would have been suicidal but I didn’t much like the thought of being stuck in a government building either. I phoned a friend at an NGO to find out what was happening. He told me that the UN had issued a warning to avoid the market. There was no advice on what to do if you were stuck in the middle of said market.
In the end, I ran to the far side of the office block – a one-storey, dingey affair – and took shelter with three old men who provided running commentaries while keeping their mobile phones glued to their ears. “It’s unknown robbers,” said one, although eventually we settled on Janjaweed who hadn’t been paid by their government masters and decided to take matters into their own hands.
Only 20 minutes after it had begun the firefight was ending. Toyota battlewagons sped past our hidey hole no doubt in hot pursuit of the armed militias.
Last year visits to El Fasher’s market for small glasses of tea were one of the highlights. At night, lamps, candles and torches created a magical starry effect. Now it is becoming a no-go area. Here’s how Reuters reported the clash.