MESSAGE FROM SUDAN
For Immediate Release
April 3, 2000 by Gabriel Meyer
Officials of the diocese of El Obeid, Sudan, based in Nairobi, Kenya, confirm
news reports that forces loyal to the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum
have launched a massive four-pronged military offensive aimed at strategic sites
in Heiban county and other "liberated" zones in the Nuba Mountains
of central Sudan. This front line area of Sudan's 17-year-old civil war is served
by the Diocese of El Obeid under the leadership of veteran human rights champion
Bishop Macram Max Gassis.
Fears are rising, said Ferdinand von Habsburg, Bishop Gassis's director of
relief operations, in a telephone interview April 2 from Nairobi, that Khartoum
forces, led by Sudanese president Omar el-Bashir, "may be mounting its
most significant attempt yet to dislodge the Nuba" from their ancestral
land. For weeks now, government troops, newly equipped by Khartoum's oil revenues,
have been massing in Kadugli, a government-controlled town in the region, in
preparation for what many fear may be an all-out genocidal assault on the indigenous
Nuba people, who have long opposed the government's forced assimilation and
Diocesan officials with contacts in the field reported late last night that
government troops have been spotted in the "bush" moving towards Kauda,
a regional center where Holy Cross Catholic School, a primary school established
by Bishop Gassis, was bombed by Sudanese air force planes in February, killing
21, including 19 children. According to the bishop's spokespersons, the offensive,
believed to comprise at least 5,000 troops, was launched from government garrisons
at Heiban, Mendi and Buram last week, effectively sealing off the area. According
to Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) sources, however, there has been no
fighting to date reported in the immediate vicinity of Kauda itself.
The situation is deeply worrying, say diocesan officials. In the past twenty
four hours there has been no word from the bishop's pastoral staff in Kauda,
although efforts to contact them continue.
A UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) report, dated March 31,
from Abidjian, confirms the troop movements in the Nuba Mountains, adding that
the anti-Nuba offensive included operations in the western Jebels and Dalami
as well as Heiban county, where Kauda is located. IRIN also quotes an SPLA source
that 8,000 Nuba have been displaced in Buram alone as a result of the campaign,
with widespread looting and destruction of agriculture.
Diocesan officials believe that the aim of the current campaign in Heiban county
is not only to occupy the landing strips that the Nuba in "liberated"
areas use to receive relief supplies and communicate with the outside world,
but to move in "heavy guns" to depopulate the region. Such "scorched
earth" tactics create humanitarian nightmares in which tens of thousands
of civilians die of hunger and exposure. The mass displacement of nearly 10,000
Nuba in Buram by government troops last week at the start of the campaign only
confirms Khartoum's grim intentions.
A full-scale attack on Kauda and, possibly, an even wider "sweep"
of Heiban county may occur, officials predict, within the next two weeks. The
outcome, in military terms, will depend on the effectiveness of vastly outgunned
local Nuba defense forces under the command of the SPLA.
The current Kauda offensive is, of course, only part of a much larger decade-old
campaign on Khartoum's part, not only to crush the resistance of 1.5 million
Nuba to the regime's political goals, but, diocesan sources say, to disperse,
impoverish and destroy the Nuba people themselves.
"They want to clear the Nuba Mountains once and for all," Bishop
Gassis said in an interview last week on the Nubas' growing peril. "All
this because of the oil."