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Sudan Dispatch: Government Forces Target Civilians in Blue Nile, Refugees Say

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Sudan Dispatch: Government Forces Target Civilians in Blue Nile, Refugees Say

Posted by Amanda Hsiao on November 1, 2011

SHERKOLE REFUGEE CAMP, Ethiopia — “I saw bodies all the way from Damazine to Ethiopia,” said Kasmero, who was in the Blue Nile state capital of Damazine when fighting broke out in early September. “When you run, you don’t go through the main roads,” he explained. “You run through the villages, along trails through the tall grass.” Along the way, he would see bodies, “Three here, four there.”

In particular, Kasmero recalled running through the town of Um Darfa. As he ran through, he said helicopter gunships and Antonovs had already attacked, and militias affiliated with the Sudanese government had begun to indiscriminately kill civilians in the town. “There is no discrimination, the common theme is you are black,” he said.

Sudanese government forces and militias are killing and raping civilians in the Sudanese border state of Blue Nile, according to accounts from refugees who recently fled the fighting. These alarming new details about how the war in Blue Nile is being conducted emerged from an Enough Project trip to the Ethiopian border—where nearly 29,000 Sudanese refugees have sought safety.

In early September the Sudanese government initiated its third conflict along the South Sudan-Sudan border in the state of Blue Nile. Even more so than in neighboring South Kordofan, few independent observers have been allowed access into the war zone. Reports on the situation have primarily come from parties to the conflict, which cannot be independently verified and lack detail on the civilian impact of the violence.

Asma, who was in the same town of Um Darfa, ran with her three children when fighting broke out. At first, fighting was limited to combatants—between the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLA, who were part of the former Joint Integrated Units—during the late hours of September 1. But by 10 a.m. of the following day, “The Antonovs started bombing,” she said. Afterward, SAF soldiers and militias began targeting civilians, she said.

“Soldiers with small arms were chasing the civilians. They were supported by the Fellata [an ethnic group in Blue Nile], who captured some of the civilians and slaughtered people,” said Asma. She said the militias and government forces did not spare children and pregnant women. “It’s all because we are black,” she said.

In more than a dozen interviews with Enough in late October, Blue Nile refugees in Sherkole camp and Kurmuk, Ethiopia recounted their experiences when violence broke out and offered their understanding of why conflict has resumed in an area that has seen peace since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, in 2005. Their stories are documented in a new Enough field dispatch released today, which also provides an overview of the conflict in Blue Nile, and a series of blog posts that will be published on the website in the coming weeks.

These accounts provide only a glimpse into how the war in Blue Nile has affected the civilian population and underscore the need for a more comprehensive investigation into the alleged atrocities. With the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization forecasting a “humanitarian and food crisis” in both Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and fighting on the ground likely to intensify with the onset of the dry season, international humanitarian access into the area, thus far denied by the Sudanese government, is desperately needed to respond to the civilian fallout. “There is a huge need for a cross-border humanitarian operation to deliver aid to the victims of attacks by the Government of Sudan on its own people in Blue Nile state and South Kordofan,” said dispatch co-author Omer Ismail.