U.N. Officials Warn of a Growing ‘Panic’ in Central Sudan as Violence Spreads
15 June, 2011 (International Herald Tribune)
United Nations officials warned on Wednesday of “a growing sense of panic” in the volatile Kordofan area of central Sudan, with 60,000 people displaced, aid convoys blocked, ethnic clashes erupting and dozens dead — possibly including several United Nations workers. President Obama urged the Sudanese government to cease “its military actions immediately.”
Aid workers and historians of Sudan said that what was happening in the Kordofan region, as described by United Nations officials, had the echoes of previous conflicts in the country that had spiraled out of control, including the bloodshed in Darfur.
“The ingredients for an explosion are all present,” said Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College and an outspoken activist who has written frequently on Sudan. “The violence in South Kordofan threatens peace in Sudan like no other crisis, and there are many.”
Kordofan lies at the heart of Sudan, is emblematic of many of the country’s problems, and is home to myriad militias, rival ethnic groups and contested oil wells. Vicious fighting broke out there last week, and there is fear that an escalating conflict in Kordofan could complicate southern Sudan’s secession into an independent country, scheduled for next month.
According to United Nations officials and aid workers, the northern Sudanese Army has embarked on an aggressive campaign against Kordofan’s Nuban people, many of whom aligned with the southern Sudanese during Sudan’s last civil war.
“They are killing the black people,” said a Sudanese aid worker who just escaped from a bombed village on Wednesday and asked not to be identified for safety reasons. “The northern army is slaughtering people who supported the S.P.L.M.,” the southern-led political party that is active in several parts of northern Sudan.
It was difficult to get a clear picture of what exactly was happening because northern Sudanese soldiers were not allowing United Nations monitors to travel freely in the area and have severed access to many villages, some of them heavily bombed. Anglican Church officials said that the violence was intensifying and that Kordofan could become “another Darfur.”
On Wednesday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report, “There is a growing sense of panic among some of the displaced populations who find themselves trapped by the ongoing violence and the ethnic fault lines.”
The report also spoke of “sectarian violence against civilians” and “widespread looting” and said that local sources had indicated that dozens had been killed in bombing runs by northern Sudanese aircraft.
An internal United Nations report provided to The New York Times said that the northern army was planting mines — which have already killed at least one person — in towns and that there had been allegations of mass graves.
Sudan Democracy First Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, said at least 28 people had been killed in extrajudicial executions, and it provided the names of the people it said had been killed.
“Ethnic cleansing once again,” the group said this week.
The group said that among those killed were several Sudanese working for the United Nations in Kordofan.
United Nations officials said they had received reports saying that one contractor working for the organization in Kordofan had been killed, an employee had been shot and wounded and several others might be missing.
The officials said that the northern army was essentially encircling a large peacekeeping base and that employees inside were down to their last rations and water. Sudanese aid workers said that several people had been killed by northern soldiers in front of the United Nations base, an allegation that some United Nations officials did not deny.
Church leaders in Kordofan have sent e-mails in which they said northern troops and allied militia members ransacked church offices. A new cathedral has been burned down, according to the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury.
Kordofan lies within the boundaries of Arab-dominated northern Sudan but is home to the Nuba Mountains and the Nuba people, many of whom are Christian and fought alongside the southern rebels during the long north-south civil war. On July 9, southern Sudan is to formally declare its independence from northern Sudan, which many analysts say will leave the southern-allied militias in the north in a precarious position.
Late last month, the northern Sudanese Army warned that southern-allied militias still operating in the north should immediately disarm and that northern troops would soon be deploying across the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, both home to thousands of heavily armed, southern-allied fighters. Many diplomats at the time said that Kordofan was a tinderbox and predicted that if the northern army stormed in, a major conflict would break out, which is what seems to be happening.
United Nations officials said that while northern Sudanese warplanes bombed villages, northern forces were rolling in tanks and heavy artillery. In some areas, witnesses said, southern-allied militias are fighting back fiercely and possibly even preparing a major assault on Kadugli, the biggest town in Southern Kordofan.
Northern Sudanese officials have not denied the bombings and the use of overwhelming force, calling such tactics necessary to suppress a rebellion.
“Our purpose is to control the area, not kill the civilians,” said Al-Sawarmi Khalid, a spokesman for the northern Sudanese Army. He also said the conflict “may continue one week, two weeks, three weeks, one month, and also it may continue for some years.”
Church leaders and others are now likening Kordofan to Darfur, Sudan’s vast western region where government-backed militias killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions from their homes in the mid-2000s.
“The risk of another Darfur situation, with civilian populations at the mercy of government-supported terror, is a real one,” Archbishop Williams said in a statement on Tuesday.
There are other eerie similarities to Darfur. Ahmed Haroun, indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity for massacres in Darfur, was recently elected governor of Southern Kordofan. The violence in Kordofan actually precedes Darfur’s. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Sudanese Army and violent local militias swept across Kordofan, killing thousands of Nuban civilians and forcing many more into “peace camps,” essentially concentration camps where many Nubans were forced to convert to Islam.
The northern army was responding to increased guerrilla activity in the Nuba Mountains, which became a base for southern rebels during the civil war.
Mr. Obama, in an audio message recorded late Tuesday for the Voice of America broadcasting network, said, “There is no military solution.”
“The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan must live up to their responsibilities,” he said. “The government of Sudan must prevent a further escalation of this crisis by ceasing its military actions immediately, including aerial bombardments, forced displacements and campaigns of intimidation.”
But it is clear that the Kordofan problems, especially in the Nuba Mountains, are not simply going to disappear when southern Sudan breaks away.
“The international community must understand this is not a north-south conflict and does not have a north-south solution,” said Julie Flint, an author who written about Sudan for years. “This is Nuba fighting as Nuba, for Nuba, within the borders of what will soon be a separate state.”
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