Four Killed Over Nile Dam Project That Threatens Nubian Towns

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Nubians on the Egyptian side of the border were relocated to Nile villages north of Aswan.

"You can't destroy a whole area in the name of development," said Sawi Bitek, a longtime advocate for the Nubian villages that remain on the Nile.

"We are river people. We need trees. You can't put us out in the desert."

The region of Nubia runs more than 435 miles (700 kilometers) along the Nile, from Aswan in Egypt past the town of Dongola in Sudan (Sudan map).

The people's history dates to at least 2300 B.C. They were at different times rivals, vassals, and conquerers of the ancient Egyptians, and the culture maintained its distinct languages and customs even as it adopted Christianity and later Islam. (Related: "Rare Nubian King Statues Uncovered in Sudan" [February 27, 2003].)

That cultural and geographic continuity suffered a severe blow with the raising of the Aswan High Dam.

Bitter Memories

More than 40 years later, the memory is still raw.

So when a crew of Chinese construction workers appeared just north of the hamlet of Sebo in January, a ripple of panic went through the villages that would likely be submerged by a new dam.

"After Halfa, the thought of another dam is miserable,'' said a local elder who requested anonymity because he feared government retaliation.

"The same thing will happen to us as happened to them. We expect nothing better."

On April 24 some 3,000 residents occupied and shut down the work site, where workers were drilling test holes to determine the composition of the bedrock beneath the region's date palm orchards and fields.

Police reinforcements sent from Dongola were trapped by a roadblock of boulders and palm trunks several miles south of the site, where the route is pinched by the Nile on one side and a steep stone embankment on the other.

Residents surrounded the dozens of police in a polite standoff, offering tea and water but keeping them away from the work site.

On Wednesday it was from that steep hill that members of Sudan's paramilitary Central Reserve Force fired on a large crowd that was marching to stop a renewed drilling and to halt the confiscation of locally owned plots, witnesses said.

Government officials said in a statement that police fired in self-defense after tear gas failed to disperse the crowd, the AFP news agency reported. The governor of Sudan's Northern State, Merghani Salah Sid Ahmed, couldn't be reached for comment.

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