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A TROUBLED COUNTRY

Sudan has ancient pyramids -- like those in neighboring Egypt. They are the remains of great civilizations.

These days, though, Sudan is better known for its violent internal conflicts. Most of its 39 million people are Arab Muslims. They have been at odds for years with the black, non-Arab, non-Muslim people in the southern part of the country. For the past 21 years, rebels from the southern region have been in a civil war with the Sudan government, which is dominated by Arabs who are also Muslim. The fighting has left 2 million people dead (mostly from famine and disease) and 4 million homeless.

The south has been resisting northern attempts to make them live under sharia, strict Islamic law. Recently, the two sides reached a peace agreement in which the government stopped imposing Islamic rules on the south and gave those people half of the nation's oil riches. Under the agreement, the south can set up its own government, and in six years vote to either remain part of Sudan or become a separate country.

Meanwhile, a different conflict rages on in the western Darfur region.

There has been tension since the 1970s between the area's wandering cattle and camel herders (who view themselves as Arabs) and the farmers (who consider themselves African). The two groups have competed for scarce resources (water, grazing land and oil). A drought a few years ago meant herders moved into lands where the farmers traditionally live.

In February 2003, activists from three of Darfur's African tribes started a rebellion against the Sudan government. The government struck back, bombing villages and giving guns and other support to groups of Arab fighters, according to the United Nations.

The fighters have terrorized the region, burning villages, attacking and killing people and driving them from their homes into into cramped refugee camps. There, humanitarian aid groups are trying to save them from starving. Tens of thousands of people in Darfur have already died.