Slave Trade Thrives in Sudan
Arab Masters Can Do as They Please

MADHOL, Sudan (AP) - Stacks of money pass from the Christian 
foreigner to the Muslim trader, an exchange anxiously watched by a 13-
year-old girl with diamonds of sweat on her brow.
   The Sudanese trader, his lap buried by currency worth $13,200, waves 
carelessly to free his merchandise - 132 slaves.
   Akuac Malong, the young Dinka girl, is among them. She has spent 
seven years - more than half her life - enslaved by an Arab in northern 
   Her brilliant smile belies the beatings, near-starvation, mutilation and 
attempted brainwashing she endured. ``I thought it would be better to die 
than to remain a slave,'' Akuac says.
   Trafficking in humans has resurged with civil war in Africa's largest and 
poorest country, said John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International, a 
humanitarian group that bought Akuac's freedom.
   For all but a decade since Sudan's independence in 1956, southern 
rebels, mainly black Christians and followers of tribal religions, have 
fought for autonomy from the national government in Khartoum, which is 
dominated by northern Arabs. The southerners believe the north is trying 
to impose Islam and the Arabic language and to monopolize Sudan's 
   Since the rebellion resumed 14 years ago, fighting, famine and disease 
have killed an estimated 1.5 million Sudanese - more than died in the 
genocides and civil wars in Rwanda or Bosnia. More than 3 million 
people have fled or been forced from their homes.
   Much of the fighting on the government side is done by local militias. 
Unpaid, their bounty is as old as war itself - slaves. Sudan's radical Islamic 
leaders encourage soldiers to take slaves as their compensation, according 
United Nations investigators and the U.S. State Department.
   Young women and children are the most valuable war booty. Eibner 
said old people are beaten and robbed while young men are killed because 
they cannot be trained into useful, harmless slaves.
   ``According to the Khartoum's regime ideology of jihad, members of 
this resistant black African community - be they men, women or children - 
are infidels, and may be arbitrarily killed, enslaved, looted or otherwise 
abused,'' Eibner said.
   The Sudanese government denies condoning slavery, insisting the 
practice persists because holding prisoners for ransom is a tradition rooted 
in tribal disputes.
   No side has a claim on morality in this war. The rebel Sudan People's 
Liberation Army has been accused of forcibly inducting teen-age boys into 
its ragtag army. But the southern blacks do not take Arab prisoners for 
   Paul Malong Awan, a regional rebel commander, said enslavement is a 
government tactic to weaken the morale and military might of the south.
   Many of the blacks taken away are Dinkas, a million-member tribe that 
is the biggest ethnic group in southern Sudan. Dinkas are vulnerable 
because they predominate in northern Bahr el Ghazal, a region that is 
close to the front between north and south.
   Christian Solidarity International estimates tens of thousands of black 
slaves are owned by Arabs in northern Sudan. The Swiss-based charity has 
made more than a dozen risky, clandestine bush flights to southern Sudan 
to redeem 800 slaves since 1995, most recently in Madhol, 720 miles 
southwest of Khartoum.

Some criticize its work
   Alex de Waal, of the London-based group African Rights, said that by 
paying large sums to free slaves, the Swiss charity undercuts Dinkas living 
in the north who do the same secretive work for a fraction of the cost.
   Eibner countered: ``There is no evidence to suggest that our work has 
undermined efforts to redeem abducted women and children. In fact, 
Dinka elders encourage us to press ahead with our activities.''
   Gaspar Biro, a researcher for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights 
for Sudan, has cited ``an alarming increase'' in ``cases of slavery, 
servitude, slave trade and forced labor'' since February 1994.
   ``The total passivity of the government can only be regarded as tacit 
political approval and support of the institution of slavery,'' he said.
   A U.S. State Department report said accounts it received on the taking 
of slaves in the south ``indicates the direct and general involvement'' of 
Sudan's army and militias ``backed by the government.''
   The centuries-old tensions between Arabs and blacks in Sudan are 
linked to slaving expeditions by Arabs to the upper Nile, a trade that the 
19th century explorer David Livingstone called ``an open sore on the 
   Akuac's mother, Abuong Malong, sobs when she sees her daughter for 
the first time in seven years. ``It's like she's been born again.''
   She recognizes her only from her straight, square teeth. ``She was very 
small when she was taken, her features have changed, but she came back 
with the same spirit.''
   Recalling that traumatic day, Mrs. Malong says they were fetching water 
when Arab militiamen on camels and horses thundered into their village, 
Rumalong. The raiders began shooting at the clusters of mud and wattle 
huts and rounding up cows and goats.
   ``I was running with Akuac for the trees when a horseman grabbed her,'' 
Mrs. Malong says. ``I was afraid that if I chased the horseman, he would 
kill me.''
   Akuac and her older brother were tied to horsebacks and taken north 
with more than a dozen others from their village, a short walk southeast of 
Madhol. The women and older children had to carry the booty of their 
   In Kordofan, Akuac was sold to an Arab who made her wash clothes, 
haul water, gather firewood and help with cooking.
   She survived on table scraps, and slept in the kitchen. ``I was badly 
treated,'' Akuac says.
   Her master also tried to make her a Muslim - taking her to mosque and 
giving her the Arabic name of Fatima.
   But Akuac says she maintained her Christian faith, praying and singing 
hymns in secret and never forgetting her true name. ``My name is my 
name and nobody can change that.''
   She does bear scars - in the local Muslim tradition, she was forcibly 
circumcised with her master's daughters when she was 11.
   ``It was very brutal. It is strange to our culture,'' Akuac says. ``The 
master told me, `If I don't circumcise you, I will have to kill you because 
you will still hold the ideas of your people, and you will try to escape.'''
   Her heart is scarred, too. Her older brother, Makol, was killed two years 
ago at age 13 while trying to escape.
   Another returnee, Akec Kwol Kiir, who is in her 40s, says she was 
repeatedly raped by four soldiers who took her north. She ended up in a 
camp where slaves were bought and sold. ``They treated us like cattle,'' 
she says.
   Her Arab master insisted that she, too, be circumcised. She refused, and 
was brutally slashed. Her ear is notched and her chin and neck scarred.
   Kwol finally submitted. ``Otherwise, they would have killed me. 
Because I was a slave, they had the right to do whatever they wanted to 
me,'' she says.

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