Since September 2011, the Sudanese government’s campaign of repression against opposition groups in its Blue Nile state has developed into an armed conflict between the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, and a coalition of rebel groups, the Sudan Revolutionary Forces, or SRF. This war has exacted a severe humanitarian toll on Blue Nile’s civilian population, due in large part to the SAF’s indiscriminate aerial bombing of civilian areas, a ground offensive that does not distinguish between civilian and military targets, and repression of groups in government-controlled areas suspected of supporting the rebels.
In early 2013, the SAF and associated armed groups launched attacks with increasing frequency in areas of Blue Nile state. For most of 2012, a consistent aerial-bombardment campaign terrorized the state’s population, causing the majority to flee to refugee camps in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and informal settlements for internally displaced persons, or IDPs. SAF ground attacks during the dry season in early 2013—while maintaining aerial bombing—marked a shift in tactics, causing even more civilians to flee the violence.
This report is based on visits to the front lines in central Blue Nile in late 2012 and early 2013, and details the current situation of the armed conflict there and its effect on the civilian population.
Fighting in Blue Nile erupted after South Sudan separated from Sudan in 2011. Looking to eliminate remnant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM, opposition left in Sudan after the independence of South Sudan, the government moved to isolate and target the newly designated SPLM-North, or SPLM-N, as distinguished from the SPLM, South Sudan’s largest political party. The SPLM-North is a Sudanese opposition movement that derives most of its support from Blue Nile state and the Nuba Mountains area of South Kordofan state.
Not long after fighting with the SPLM-N in the Nuba Mountains began, the government took action against the SPLM-N political leadership in Blue Nile. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir removed Malik Agar, the elected SPLM-N Blue Nile governor, and other lower-level officials.Simultaneously, the state security forces launched a series of major security operations, including aerial attacks on the populations of Blue Nile perceived to be in support of Agar and the SPLM-N. Agar and SPLM-N colleagues then joined the uprising already underway by other opposition groups.
With Agar as their leader, the opposition formed the SRF as an umbrella group, including the SPLM-N and other armed opposition groups. With the onset of the dry season in early 2013, government forces took the opportunity of increased mobility to begin clearing villages and launching renewed ground attacks heading south.