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Satellites Capture Battle for Control of Main Refugee Route Out of Sudan

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Satellites Capture Battle for Control of Main Refugee Route Out of Sudan

Posted by Mollie Zapata on January 30, 2012

Satellites Capture Battle for Control of Main Refugee Route Out of Sudan

A battle over control of the main refugee route from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan into South Sudan raged last week, according to eyewitness reports obtained by the Enough Project. Sources reported that at 5 a.m. local time on January 25, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North, or SPLA-N, launched an offensive from the mountains above the town of Toroge toward the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, positioned below.

SAF had stationed approximately 2,000 troops in the area, and sent in approximately 1,000 reinforcements from the Jau area in a successful effort to maintain control of Toroge. Sources reported that there was bombardment on both sides, and that both sides are equipped with mortars, T-55 main battle tanks, and howitzers.

A new Satellite Sentinel Project report, “Chokepoint: Evidence of SAF Control of Refugee Route to South Sudan,” released January 27 corroborates these eyewitness accounts. The report documents DigitalGlobe imagery depicting a fortified chokepoint in Toroge where SAF has amassed apparent artillery, infantry fighting vehicles, and battle tanks. Imagery in the report also captured a line of six grey smoke plumes on a ridge above Toroge, indicating an artillery barrage, and an Antonov airplane—the aircraft used for bombing attacks—heading toward the location of the apparent barrage.

After the report’s release, a source on the ground confirmed to the Enough Project that the plumes of smoke and Antonov airplane were part of a battle over control of the main road from South Kordofan to the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan. SAF now controls the road and is blocking any humanitarian aid going into rebel-controlled areas.

“Restricting the ability of civilians to flee a conflict zone can constitute a violation of international humanitarian law,” said Harvard Carr Center Executive Director Charlie Clements, MD. “It is crucial that the government of Sudan allow any and all civilians attempting to flee violence in South Kordofan to do so and seek refuge across the border.”

Since the battle on January 25-26, the flow of refugees into Yida has dried into a trickle, as SAF has blocked most of the civilians attempting to flee the Nuba Mountains. On January 30, the Enough Project obtained a report from Yida camp that currently hosts 28,500 refugees.

The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, or HART, a U.K.-based aid group, reported:

[A]t least 923 bombs have been dropped on South Kordofan since June 2011. Such constant aerial bombardment has prevented farmers from cultivating their land and recent reports from Buram and Heiban localities suggest food will last the average family no more than 2-3 months if they eat only one meal per day. HART’s partners in South Kordofan are reporting possibility of severe famine.

“In effect, they’re creating a kill box, cutting off the flow of refugees,” Enough Project Director of Communications Jonathan Hutson said in an interview on CBN News on January 27. “They’re encircling the Nuba people of the Nuba Mountains, as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign.”

SSP’s latest report, “Chokepoint: Evidence of SAF Control of Refugee Route to South Sudan,” follows up on its January 25 report that documented evidence of the SAF encircling the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan in apparent preparation for an onslaught against the rebel stronghold of the Kauda Valley.

Photo: Smoke plumes consistent with artillery barrage (DigitalGlobe)