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July/August 2011
Vol. 36, No. 4


Sudan: Complex violence precedes independence

As South Sudan prepared for its independence on July 9, violence in the border regions of Abyei, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan intensified, sparking a humanitarian crisis and fears of a return to war. While an agreement was reached in Addis Ababa between the North and South for the withdrawal of Sudanese Armed Forces from Abyei and Ethiopian forces prepared to deploy to Abyei as the agreed interim security force, the violence in Southern Kordofan continued unabated.

On June 20, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council, "On June 5, violence broke out in multiple areas of Southern Kordofan, including its capital, Kadugli. The reports … of the ongoing fighting are horrifying—both because of the scope of human rights abuses and because of the ethnic dimensions to the conflict. The Sudanese Armed Forces [SAF] have shelled and bombed the areas around Kadugli. Ongoing and intense aerial bombardments threaten the lives of civilians and UN personnel; a bomb fell just 100 meters from the UNMIS compound in Kauda. The SAF have threatened to shoot down UNMIS air patrols.

"They have taken control of the airport in Kadugli and refuse landing rights to UNMIS flights … UNMIS's lack of access is alarming and indefensible. UNMIS and humanitarian aid workers must be granted full access, most especially when so many are in need of food, water, and humanitarian aid.
"According to the United Nations, more than 360,000 people have been displaced in Sudan over the past six months, and more than half were displaced in the past month. As many as 75,000 people have fled the fighting in Southern Kordofan….

"[W]e have also received reports that forces aligned with the Government of Sudan searched for Southern forces and sympathizers, whom they arrested and allegedly executed. We have received further allegations, not yet corroborated, ... that the SAF are arming elements of the local population and placing mines in areas of Kadugli. The United States condemns all acts of violence, especially those that target individuals based on their ethnicity or political affiliation. Security services and military forces have reportedly detained and summarily executed local authorities, political rivals, medical personnel, and others. These acts could constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity."

Ambassador Rice's words were strong and the Obama administration seemed to recognize the seriousness of the situation, but in the same statement Rice criticized actions of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), returning to the "moral equivalency" position the U.S. has held onto for too long. In fact, according to Eric Reeves of Smith College, "the ethnic killings, the summary executions, the indiscriminate aerial bombardments (only Khartoum has an air force), the use of heavy artillery against civilian targets, the destruction of churches and murder of church officials – these are singularly the responsibility of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime … There are also a number of reports that Nuba civilians have been collected in cattle trucks; that these human round-ups are being conducted by Arab paramilitary and militia forces, including the notorious Popular Defense Forces, is extremely ominous. Most chilling are the repeated reports, from various quarters, of mass graves in the Kadugli area."

John Ashworth writes about "two zones" now present within South Kordofan: In areas controlled by the SPLA, especially in the mountains, there are broad similarities to the days of the civil war. People are being bombed and shelled by SAF, and face great hardships. A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding, with an urgent need for the international community to find ways to help. But people are fleeing there as a "safe haven"; at least they feel protected by the SPLA. Whatever skeleton civilian administration exists in the area is sympathetic to them, and there is some capacity to handle humanitarian aid.

In areas controlled by the Khartoum government, the situation for Nuba citizens is chaotic. They are being targeted by government forces. They have fled as far as El Obeid, but Nuba are reportedly still being hunted down even there. There is a climate of fear. The priority for the international community is to stop the killing before it turns into full-scale ethnic cleansing as experienced in the 1990s.

Faith in action:

Write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging the United States to stay fully alert to the serious situation in South Kordofan.

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