Sudan Returnees Carry Horrific Memories

In Southern Sudan, tens of thousands of refugees are returning home after a 21-year civil war. Some were abducted by Arab militiamen and taken north, where they were often subjected to beatings, rape and other forms of torture.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

We're going to take a look this morning at Sudan. In a moment we'll talk with the U.N. representative to Sudan about peace efforts in Darfur. First we go to southern Sudan, where tens of thousands of refugees are returning home after fleeing during the 21-year war. Some of the returnees didn't flee, they were kidnapped by Arab militiamen, and taken to the north, where they were often subjected to beatings, rape, and other forms of torture. Many of them are coming home now that there is peace between the North and the South, but they're finding they need more than freedom.

NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault has this story.

(Soundbite of chopping wood)

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, reporting:

Chopping wood, Nanute Dang's(ph) small contribution to her uncle's household. For years longer than she can count, Nanute Dang has lived as a captive without wages in the home of an Arab man in the North. Forced, when he insisted, she said, to play sack with him, as the Dinkas(ph) describe the sexual act. Dang bore two children from these rapes.

(Sounbite of Nanute Dang and family)

About some 15,000 women and children were abducted in raids on southern villages by Arab militiamen during the 21-year conflict that pitted the Arab Muslim North against the mostly Christian South, according to the United Nations. There is widespread agreement that thousands of abductees were taken North and sold as slaves, though the government of Sudan has consistently denied that slavery exists in the country.

Ms. NANUTE DANG (Sudanese abductee):(Foreign language spoken)

Nanute Dang doesn't use the word, but rather describes a life no different from a slave's, being forced to do double work, wash the clothes, clean the house and the yard, look after the cattle and pound sorghum by hand for hours on end. Stories like Nanute Dang's are not rare in the province of Bahr el-Ghazal, where many Arab raids took place. Under a large tree, more than a dozen of these women gather to meet Gloria White-Hammond, a Boston pediatrician and minister, who got involved in the rescue of abductees back in 2001. She's come this time with five other women to try and start a school for girls. But, she says, her own abuse as a child, at the hands of her father, draws her like a magnet to these women.

Dr. GLORIA WHITE-HAMMOND (Boston pediatrician and minister): It hit home. I've known what it's like to be violated as a woman. That's part of why I particularly felt connected to these women and have wanted to support their overcoming and to demonstrate their capacity to move beyond the abuse.

Ms. MORAY ALEDEGA (Sudanese abductee): (Foreign language spoken)

HUNTER-GAULT: Encouraged by White-Hammond's gentle probing, Moray Aledega(ph) tells of her own nightmarish life, from the time the Arab militia swooped into the home of her father-in-law and tied her, two children, and her mother and father all together at the wrists. They were made to walk ten days on foot.

Dr. WHITE-HAMMOND: I want to ask if she had any sexual abuse, if she's willing to talk about that.

Ms. MORAY ALEDEGA: (Foreign language spoken)

HUNTER-GAULT: Moray Aledega says the man who abducted her forced her to be his wife and made her play sack. He impregnated her, but she escaped. She says he came after her and beat her with a very big bamboo, breaking some of her ribs, which is still causing pain.

Ms. MORAY ALEDEGA: (Foreign language spoken)

HUNTER-GAULT: When he found her running, she says, he took the child away, and even today, she says, I don't know where is my child. White-Hammond doesn't take her eyes off Aledega while speaking to the interpreter.

Dr. WHITE-HAMMOND: I want to know what her life is like, now that she's back.

Ms. MORAY ALEDEGA: (Foreign language spoken)

HUNTER-GAULT: Moray Aledega says she is very sad because she's not strong enough to work and make her own house. She can't find her husband, and because there's no hospital or clinic, she's living with the pain of her broken ribs. Because she has no money, she sleeps at night on the floor of a relative, wrapped in the skin of a cow.

Dr. WHITE-HAMMOND: I'm very sorry to hear that.

HUNTER-GAULT: But there is even more to come. Stories of sexual abuse, and broken limbs, and coming home to a place quiet from the sounds of war, but with little else. In the compound nearby, Nanute Dang is a bit more fortunate, but barely. Samonenim Weimway(ph), her uncle who has taken her in, is a wounded war veteran, shot in the spine while liberating a town from the northern Sudanese soldiers. He says he's been unable to work since he was shot 12 years ago, but will share what little he and his family can spare. But, he says:

Mr. SAMONENIM WEIMWAY (Sudan villager): It's terrible, now, he's (unintelligible) and she has no other (unintelligible).

HUNTER-GAULT: Gloria White-Hammond makes no promises but she says she will see what she can do for all of the women who are so close to her heart, as well as their girl children.

Dr. WHITE-HAMMOND: Well, we wish we could do everything, but, and for now we're going to concentrate on the schools for the girls and we will do the best that we can.

(Soundbite of applause)

HUNTER-GAULT: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News.

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