for National Geographic News
A proposed dam project on the Nile River has escalated into bloody conflict between Sudan's government and ethnic minority Nubians who stand to lose the little that's left of their ancient homeland.
Four people were killed Wednesday near Sebo, in northern Sudan, and another 19 injured when riot police fired on villagers protesting the project, according to officials and witnesses.
"They were shot before my eyes." Osman Ibrahim Osman, a leader of a coalition of 26 villages that opposes the dam, told National Geographic News.
"I can't explain why they started firing. It was a peaceful demonstration."
Later, in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, police used tear gas to scatter hundreds of demonstrators outraged by the deaths and stirred by the bitter legacy of the Aswan High Dam. Dozens of Nubian villages were flooded by the dam's construction and tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated.
Despite the intense local opposition, Sudan's government is moving forward with preliminary work on the project, known as the Kijbar Dam.
The tensions over Kijbar echo a struggle hundreds of miles to the south, where members of a river tribe have refused to make way for the Chinese-built hydroelectric Merowe Dam, which is scheduled to begin operation in late 2008.
History Repeats Itself
For the Kijbar protestors, however, the true touchstone is the Nile's Aswan High Dam in neighboring Egypt (map of Egypt).
Egypt's construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s flooded Nubian villages on both sides of the Sudan-Egypt border and forced more than 90,000 people into new settlements—most of them in Sudan's eastern desert.
In Sudan the main Nubian city, Wadi Halfa, was submerged by the new Aswan reservoir, which the Egyptians call Lake Nasser and the Sudanese call Lake Nubia.
A military dictatorship forced 50,000 people to a new city, New Halfa, in the east, where many died of malaria and other diseases. The community splintered, and many families migrated to Khartoum and other cities.