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Sudan: More Evidence of Khartoum’s Targeting of Civilians as New Front Erupts

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Sudan: More Evidence of Khartoum’s Targeting of Civilians as New Front Erupts

Posted by Laura Heaton on September 2, 2011

Sudan: More Evidence of Khartoum’s Targeting of Civilians as New Front Erupts

A new battle zone along Sudan’s volatile border opened last night, with government bombardments and fighting reported from the capital of Blue Nile state. Enough issued a statement this afternoon condemning the assault on Blue Nile, the third region to come under attack by Sudan Armed Forces in the past six months.

News of bombardments in Blue Nile came in the wake of a report this week that bolstered allegations of Khartoum’s deliberate effort to target civilians in the neighboring state of Southern Kordofan since fighting broke out there in early June.

The Sudanese government’s ongoing air offensive in the Nuba Mountains is targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, not only fighters with the opposition group, a team of seasoned researchers on the ground concluded. During a visit to the conflict affected area, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International investigated 13 of the airstrikes – just a handful of daily attacks – and cross-checked witness and victim testimony with medical records and evidence of the bombings to determine:

[T]here were no fighters of the armed opposition group, SPLA-North, in the areas at the time or before the strikes. None of the investigated incidents took place near front-line positions or areas of active armed confrontations.

The report published this week contributes to a growing collection of documentation of atrocities committed against civilians in South Kordofan. The anecdotal evidence of the Sudanese government’s indiscriminate bombings and apparently concerted effort to cut off the region from aid has been highlighted in earlier U.N. and media reports, but the thoroughness of the HRW/AI findings strengthens allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Combined with the unique angle contributed by the Satellite Sentinel Project, a case not unlike the one built around Darfur – cataloguing arming of government-aligned militias, indiscriminate bombings, targeting of civilian infrastructure, blocking of humanitarian assistance – could be compiled on Southern Kordofan, this time in near real-time.

The total number of displaced from Southern Kordofan alone currently stands at 150,000. Ongoing insecurity is exacerbating a food situation already made dire by late rains. The USAID-backed Famine Early Warning System Network classified the food and livelihood situation for civilians affected by the conflict in Southern Kordofan as “Crisis,” one level below “Emergency,” Human Rights Watch and Amnesty noted in their report.

In addition to the ongoing violence, malnutrition is a prime concern of humanitarians responding to the growing number of displaced who are amassing across the border in South Sudan’s Unity state, creating a new refugee situation in a state already coping with internal displacement and insecurity caused by recent clashes between the southern army and rebel groups. OCHA’s most recent estimates suggested in mid-August that 4,000 people from Southern Kordofan had arrived in the town of Pariang in Unity. That number has no doubt risen since then and will likely continue to rise – OCHA predicts up to 10,000 in South Sudan by mid-September – as ceasefires are ignored and the front expands.   

“Any form of dissent is being crushed through artillery and aerial bombardment,” said Enough Co-founder John Prendergast in today’s press release. “Sudan may not be as dramatic as Syria or Libya because no cameras are allowed, but it is much more deadly. Given the scale of the emergency, the international response has been non-existent."

Photo: Civilians gathered near the U.N. compound in Kadugli when fighting broke out in Southern Kordofan in June (U.N.)