SPLM/A speaks of "fierce fighting" in Nubah Mountains

10 December (IRIN)

Fierce fighting between the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and pro-government forces, which began on 3 December, was still "raging" around the town of Kurungo West in the Nubah Mountains, SPLM/A spokesman George Garang said in a statement on Friday, 7 December.

The rebel movement accused Khartoum of violating an agreed period of tranquility by undertaking a military offensive in the Nuba Mountains, in Southern Kordofan, south-central Sudan.

"The fighting violates the four-week period of tranquility which the GOS [government of Sudan] had accepted to observe for the airdropping of much-needed humanitarian assistance to the war ravaged parts of the Nuba Mountains," the statement said.

Just before a visit of US peace envoy John Danforth in November, the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A agreed to a four-week period of tranquility to allow humanitarian assistance to reach the civilian population of the Nuba Mountains.

"We call upon the international community and the United States, in particular, to restrain the GOS from carrying on with its crimes against humanity by ceasing these senseless hostilities," Garang's statement said.

Humanitarian sources told IRIN on Monday that they were "pretty convinced" the attacks mentioned in the SPLM/A statement had taken place. Other government attacks had taken place in the Nuba Mountains during the cease-fire period, and there was no reason to doubt these reports, sources said.

The Nuba Mountains has been the site of serious fighting between forces loyal to Khartoum and the SPLA in recent years. Many Nuba people have fled fertile plains around the mountains to seek refuge on the SPLM/A-held mountain slopes, while others have been forced into government "peace camps".

The Nuba Relief Rehabilitation and Development Organisation (NRRDO) estimated in June that the lives of some 80,000 people in the region were at risk.

A cessation of hostilities and unrestricted humanitarian access to the Nuba Mountains was one of four confidence-building measures proposed by Danforth during his four-day mission to Sudan in mid-November.

Danforth also proposed a cessation of bombing and artillery attacks on civilians; zones of tranquility and times of tranquility to enable safe delivery of humanitarian assistance; and an end to the taking of slaves.

A UN World Food Programme (WFP) operation to airdrop some 2,039 MT of emergency food aid in Nuba was completed last week, several days before the end of the four week cease-fire period.

However, some staff had remained in the Nuba Mountains to finish an assessment of additional aid requirements, according to the UN food agency.

Although Danforth expressed hope during his Sudan mission that the Nuba cease-fire would be extended indefinitely, WFP told IRIN on 5 December that it would not be asking Khartoum to extend the tranquility period - which officially ended on Sunday, 9 December.

Additional food deliveries would probably be needed before April of next year, WFP added.

Sudanese President Umar Hasan al-Bashir said last month that any long-term cease-fire in Nuba should include the oil pipeline which crosses the Nuba Mountains, and not just the areas where civilians are at risk.

"We have expressed to the American presidential envoy our reservation towards the partial cease-fire he has proposed," AFP quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, a US delegation on a five-day mission to follow up on Danforth's visit and "flesh-out" his proposals held its first meeting with Sudanese officials on Saturday, 8 December.

The US team, headed by Jeffrey Millington, coordinator of the Sudan section of the US State Department, met Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Uthman Isma'il and Foreign Under-Secretary Mutref Siddeiq Ahmed, with the aim of gauging the government's reaction to Danforth's proposals and "putting meat on what they might mean in practice," humanitarian sources told IRIN on Monday.

The seven-man delegation is also expected to travel to southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains to discuss the proposals with SPLM/A officials, Reuters reported on Saturday.

Danforth has said he will return to Sudan in early January to receive a formal response to his suggested confidence-building measures from Sudanese President Umar Hasan al-Bashir and SPLM/A leader John Garang.