I can usually gauge the amount of public attention that Darfur is getting by the frequency of parental phone calls from faraway lands. "The United Nations says that they might pull out of Darfur - what are you still doing there?" my mother asks me accusingly today. In past jobs, I have tried to address her worries by doing my best to explain the security situation as clearly and honestly as possible, but in this one I can't - not because I don't want to scare her (well, I guess that's always part of it too), but also because the situation is simply too confusing, too complicated and above all too unclear here in Darfur.
While everyone on the ground (including UN staff) agrees that it is highly unlikely that the UN agencies will be saying good-bye to Darfur anytime soon, the tension in most towns and camps is striking. Not only have the past few weeks in Darfur seen a sharp increase in violent hold-ups, lootings and even abductions of UN or NGO convoys (especially in West Darfur)- but we've also witnessed other developments that are a lot more complicated than a simple robbery.
A series of fresh militia attacks in North and South Darfur, as well as fighting between rebel groups and government soldiers, are raising tensions to a completely new level. Regular tit-for-tat retaliations and last week's Janjaweed attack on a camp for displaced people in Aro Sharow, West Darfur, that killed around 40 people are obviously not helping calm people's nerves.
Other camps, particularly those that are likely to be see some of the seasonal North-to-South migrations by Arab nomads (which seem to be occurring a lot earlier than usual this year), are terrified that they will be next target. Even among the local staff, there is an increasing level of anxiety and there are even divisions along tribal lines - no one is really sure any more what is going on and who they want to trust with information.
As with any conflict situation, rumours are rife. Every day we hear new ones: which towns might be attacked next, where there will be cattle-rustling or rebel movements. Some turn out to be true, most aren't - and the whopping majority disappear into a big black hole of confusion that you forget to follow up on and never really establish what happened and how. Everyone is so busy just trying to do their job that it becomes increasingly hard to stay on top of the big picture.
Tags: Sudan, Darfur, aid worker, security, attacks, Aro Sharow, fear