Disaster 'In The Making' In Sudanese Nuba Mountains

By Moyiga Nduru
Mar 6, 1997 (IPS)

A major catastrophe is in the making in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan where an estimated 500,000 people have run out of food and need emergency relief aid, say Sudanese community leaders here.

''The situation is becoming very desperate. The people need emergency food. They need medicine... to treat malaria and other ailments like dysentery,'' Dr Suliman Rayal of the London-based Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad told IPS on Thursday.

To highlight the plight of the Nuba, Rayal and Yusuf Kuwa, a top official of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), has held talks with Dutch and British foreign ministry officials and parliamentarians.

The two urged London and the Hague to exert pressure on the Sudanese government to open up the Nuba Mountains to aid agencies.

The aid agencies were expelled from the Nuba Mountains in October 1991. And, since then, the Islamic radical government of Lt- General Omar Hassan al Bashir has been resisting all attempts by United Nations and other international bodies to allow food to reach the starving people there.

The problem of the Nuba, who number over one million, started after backed the SPLA in 1983, following appeals by leader John Garang to help 'liberate' Sudan from the 'minority Arab clique' in Sudan.

Sudan, the largest country in Africa, has been ruled by Arabs since independence from Britain in January 1956.
Garang comes from the south, a region inhabited by non-Muslim Africans. And the Nuba, a minority which hail from the Arab north, and profess Islam, Christianity and traditional African religion, heeded Garang's appeal and joined the rebel Movement en masse.

But following the SPLA split in August 1991, the local contingency in the Nuba Mountains found itself isolated. The government, taking advantage of the isolation and poor supplies, encircled the area under its control, seizing hill passes used by the Nuba tribes for centuries.

The regime's troops took also control of the water points in the area, in a bid to deny them to those whom the government perceived to be sympathetic to the SPLA.

In addition, the local population have been prevented from tilling the land, and their farms have been taken over by the regime's forces.

To further complicate the crisis in the Nuba Mountains, the Nuba SPLA itself has split into two factions. The faction, under Kuwa, is loyal to Garang. The other, led by poet and journalist Mohamed Haroun Kafi, has signed a peace pact with the Khartoum government.

Kafi heads the so-called SPLA/Nuba Mountains chapter. The charter was also signed by Riak Machar, another former Garang ally and leader of the Southern Sudan Independent Movement (SSIM). But Kuwa described Kafi as ''a one-man army'' and that he had ''no soldiers under his command''.

Hassan al Turabi, speaker of the rubber-stamp parliament who is widely believed to be the power behind the regime in the Sudan, told journalists in the capital, Khartoum, recently that he expected the charter to be formalised into an agreement soon.

Once formalised, he said, it would end Sudan's war and bring a ''lasting peace'' to a country which has seen no peace since independence in 1956.

However this charter is being threatened by a new force, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella opposition grouping, based in neighbouring Eritrea.

Garang is the commander-in-chief of the NDA forces which invaded Sudan from the east of the country in December 1996.

The alliance include the country's main traditional parties, the Umma Party of former prime minister Sadiq al Mahdi and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Mohamed Osman Mirghani.

Rayal said Sudan needed a peaceful solution now. ''If there is no peace, the country will plunge into anarchy and disintegrate like Somalia,'' he said.

But, in order to be acknowledged by government, Rayal said, the NDA should arm and present itself as a force to be reckoned with. ''If we don't have a balance of force, the government in Khartoum will not take us seriously,'' he said.

That may be too late for the majority of the people in the Nuba Mountains many of whom have been rounded up and sent to ''peace camps'', built by the government to isolate the civilian population from the rebel Movement.

More than a million people are believed to have died in Sudan's civil war, many of them in the Nuba Mountains.