The Small War in Eastern Chad

Letter From Dar Sila

Dar Sila, Chad. Jerome Tubiana

Between 2003 and 2008, while the war in Darfur raged on next door, Dar Sila, in eastern Chad, faced a devastating conflict of its own, one that simmers on today. It became the main theater of a proxy war between Chad and Sudan, which each used rebels and Janjawid Arab militias to destabilize the other’s regime. It was one of those African “small wars” that the world noticed too late and for not very long.

In 2003, Dar Sila absorbed some 50,000 Darfurians fleeing the violence across the border, but the refugees were not the only ones to come through. Backed by Khartoum, Janjawid Arab militias followed as well, pillaging far and wide across Dar Sila. These militias found local allies among the Chadian Arab population and also among like-minded non-Arabs who, beginning in the 1980s, came to Dar Sila from the country’s north. These migrants had been pushed south by droughts, much like the Arab camel herders who left Chad and became the Janjawid in Darfur.

Both Arab and non-Arab newcomers had a thirst for acquiring land—and, if needed, would take it by force. Beginning in 2003, Dar Sila’s main indigenous tribe, the Daju, tried to mobilize its own militias against the Janjawid, but, armed primarily with bows and poisoned arrows, it was largely defeated. By March 2007, the Janjawid and Chadian Arab rebels, both backed by Khartoum, were controlling a pocket of land within Chadian territory. From there, they attacked the villages of Tiero and Marena, the main strongholds of the Daju militias, killing hundreds of civilians. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the region. A European peacekeeping force and then a United Nations mission were deployed in 2008 and 2009, respectively, with much fanfare (as in Darfur), but they withdrew quietly in 2010. Humanitarian nongovernmental organizations also came and left—there was much less funding for rebuilding destroyed communities than for temporary emergency relief.

All in all, this “small war” internally displaced some 200,000 Chadian civilians in Dar Sila, out of a

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