‘Nafir' newsletter launched

Sudan Update Volume 6, #8
May 22, 1995

In an attempt `to break the isolation of the Nuba Mountains,' a newsletter has been launched by the Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Society (NRRDS) and Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad (NMSA). The newsletter is entitled NAFIR, which stands for Nuba Action for an International Rescue.

The word nafir in Arabic `means a call or cry for help, for example when a person is caught in a fire or flood or is fought by an overwhelming force', and `is also commonly used in western Sudan, including the Nuba Mountains, for a gathering of people freely to help one of them cultivate or harvest his or her farm. The Khartoum government is trying to stamp out the nafir communal work party, which is according to tradition paid in local beer.'

Published simultaneously in Nairobi and London, NAFIR `aims to be the Nuba Mountains information service and reference on human rights violations and humanitarian issues, on the culture and society of the Nuba peoples and other questions that lack answers...'

Its editorial says, `As the SPLA negotiates with the Khartoum government, an agenda for separation is coming to the fore - North and South will go their own ways. But where does the agenda of separation leave the Nuba Mountains? Is the whole of the North - including the Nuba Mountains - to be granted to the fundamentalist government, where they can pursue their extremist ambitions without hindrance, as a reward for making a deal with the Southerners? Nuba people have fought for their rights for more than ten years; even today they are fighting for the South under the command of the SPLA - but not to be abandoned in this way...' (Nafir 1.1, Apr/95)

CALL FOR RELIEF: The first edition of NAFIR calls for a new policy of relief for the Nuba Mountains. `The government aid programme is centred on the main towns of south Kordofan, such as Kadugli and Dilling. There are hundreds of thousands of Nuba in displaced camps (what they call "peace villages") around these towns. All of them are in need. But they are not there because of natural disaster: they are there because the government forces are systematically destroying the rural areas. They are withholding relief. They are halting trade. They are burning crops. And this season they have developed a new strategy of destroying wells, so that the remaining Nuba people in the SPLA-held areas are depending on surface water in pools in the mountains.

Rural people are forced to leave their villages to go to the towns to find medicines, food, seeds, essential commodities such as clothes and soap, even water. But then they are trapped by the government, and cannot return. Many of those who are now in the displaced camps were tricked when the SPLA and government signed a cease-fire in 1992 - and then the government reneged on it as soon as people had arrived in the towns to see their relatives and visit the markets. Trapped in the camps, the people need to be kept alive. Islamic relief agencies take the lead, but international agencies are following. Is this humanitarian aid? Or is it assisting a policy of war and ethnic cleansing?

`And we know that the displaced camps are centres for forcible Islamisation. The Khartoum government has no intention of letting the Nuba return home - at least until they have become transformed into Islamic extremists, and their native villages have become mechanised farms.

International aid agencies claim to be neutral. But what neutrality is it when aid is given to the oppressor, and the oppressed are left defenceless?

`The Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Society (NRRDS) is founded on solidarity with the Nuba people whose overwhelming wish is to resist the annihilation of their culture and society, and who wish to receive international assistance that is given freely and impartially, and in conformity with human rights. At the moment, relief can only be given freely and impartially in the areas of the Nuba Mountains not controlled by the government, and to Nuba refugees in Southern Sudan and neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Kenya. So that is where we exist. But, because of distance, expense, lack of infrastructure and lack of international support, NRRDS faces huge obstacles in meeting the needs of the Nuba people.' (Nafir 1.1, Apr/95)

RETURN TO THE MOUNTAINS: `At every turn there was evidence of the tragedy that is devastating this proud and beautiful region,' writes Mohamed Haroun Kafi in NAFIR, in an account of his first visit to the region since the war began.

`Khaypar, a Nuba man we met on our trek, told us how government forces had attacked his area earlier in the summer. How soldiers and militiamen advanced in waves - in trucks and tanks and everything in-between, burning villages, farms and harvests before retreating with all the goats and cattle.

`But it was at El Dar, 40 minutes' walk from the nearest government garrison, that we first saw for ourselves the devastation wrought by government forces. Instead of joining battle with the SPLA, they had burnt the entire village - houses and huts, chapels and schools. Everything was destroyed. There were no chickens, no donkeys, no pigs. Nothing. A town of 13,000 souls had been reduced to a ghost town.

`Then came Tabanya, where we stayed for three days. On market day there was nothing for sale but a few groundnuts, some greens and a little sorghum - a tin to be exchanged for a goat, or a bag for a cow. There was a little salt, some ten pounds' worth brought from Pariyang, but word had preceded it that this was stolen merchandise. So the salt, and the thieves, were sent back to Pariyang.

`Tabanya too had been looted. Zacharia Kuku lost his cattle, ten goats and six huts when a force of 2,000 armed men invaded the village in December 1992 and March 1993. We were told that men died in crossfire and women were carried off. Only a few cows escaped, out of the reach of the northern troops, at the top of the mountain. Zacharia's near farm looked too small to feed a family, but the far farm carried the risk of death at the hands of militias despatched by the NIF.

`The war has changed more than just the land. Nuba culture is being transformed and traditions smothered. Before the war, rites of passage from childhood to the age of consent and marriage were accompanied by pure songs of love. Today the refrains are altogether different: "God is angry, everything has gone wrong. People! Recruit yourselves, find a solution! Carry arms and let us defeat the Arabs!" Language skills are being lost because of forced migration; displacement is diluting the rich variety of Nuba tongues.

`On our last evening, we heard stories of the atrocities perpetrated in the Lagawa area in 1992- 93, of Nuba children being captured by government soldiers and sold to Arab nomads for 300-500 Sudanese pounds a head. Now the children are lost without trace. This kind of transaction has no receipt, no forwarding address.

`As we left, we looked over our shoulders and saw our friends, so generous with their hospitality despite their sorry need, gazing after us. Perhaps someone will read their story now, and send them aid.' (NAFIR 1.1, Apr/95)