Government offensive is aimed at starving out Sudan's Nuba rebels

By Julie Flint in Kauda

The Guardian - (U.K)
June 4, 2001

The last two weeks have seen the biggest Sudanese government offensive against the Nuba since the first days of the Islamic holy war it declared against them in 1992.

Within 24 hours of the shelling beginning on May 17, the artillery fire had closed all the airstrips used to take clandestine food and medical supplies into the blockaded mountains.

Within a week government troops and militias supported by multiple rocket launchers had attacked seven villages in the immediate vicinity of the burial place of Yousif Kuwa, the man who led the Nuba people's struggle for survival until his death on March 31.

When first shells hit the rebel-controlled airstrip, civilians and soldiers were gathering to mark the end of mourning for Kuwa. The explosions barely interrupted the sound of music and laughter in the village where Kuwa is buried.

His successor, Abdel Aziz Adam el-Helo, danced with a young woman in a blue dress as Nuba officers of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) played traditional music on drums and lutes. Christians and Muslims prayed together beside Kuwa's tomb, a demonstration of the Nuba tolerance that is anathema to the fundamentalist generals who rule Sudan.

But thousands of Nuba were forced to flee as government soldiers scaled the mountains, destroying almost 2,500 homes and systematically burning food stores. In one village, Kashama, a woman of was burned alive.

SPLA forces drove the government troops back after 10 days. They expect another attack.

With more than 40,000 Nuba in SPLA-controlled areas already facing famine after poor rains and attacks on productive land, the offensive threatens civilians far beyond the reach of Khartoum's guns.

'It is obvious that the government is trying to seal the Nuba mountains by taking all the airstrips,' said Yoanes Ajawin of Justice Africa, who was meeting human rights monitors in the mountains as the offensive began.

'The way they are targeting villages and food is an indication they want to create a famine so that the Nuba run to government 'peace villages'.'

Justice Africa's monitors reported that dozens of Nuba civilians were abducted during the offensive, which involved attacks by more than 7,000 government troops on several fronts.

The government operation was named 'The Heroes of Adar Yel', after the place where a dozen commanders died in an air crash on 4 April. The dead included several high-ranking officers whom Justice Africa wanted to have tried for war crimes.

On May 26, the day after Khartoum announced that it was halting the aerial bombardment, it dropped eight bombs on the Lumon hills west of Kauda. Catholic priests and personnel fled their compound in Kauda. In a statement issued during a visit to Canada, Bishop Makram Max Gassis pleaded for help.

'I appeal to the international community for immediate intervention to create a ceasefire,' he said.

'What will the world do? Will it allow another Holocaust this time of the Nuba people - to occur?'

For the past 10 years all appeals to the international community to intervene to save the Nuba have gone unheeded. The UN continues to accept Khartoum's ban on the delivery of relief to rebel-controlled areas of the mountains.

The US, which has promised 40,000 tonnes of grain, does not say how it plans to get it to the blockaded mountains.