By Eric Reeves
October 15, 2011 (SSNA) — Since this report and data spreadsheet were originally released on May 6, 2011, the Sudan Armed Forces—at the direction of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum—have continued their aerial onslaught against civilians in various regions of North Sudan. This savagery has now spread from South Kordofan to another northern border state, Blue Nile. At the same time, civilian villages in Darfur, without any military presence, continue to be targeted. I have argued that in aggregate, these many hundreds of confirmed, deliberate aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians—going back more than a decade—constitute crimes against humanity. So, too, does the widespread, systematic denial of humanitarian access on an ethnic as is, something the UN first reported in Darfur in 2003(in South Sudan the Nuba Mountains this had begun over a decade earlier). And yet these tactics, which have defined the military strategy of the Khartoum regime for so long, show no signs of being curtailed. Nor is there any sign that these atrocity crimes will confront meaningful action by international actors, who know full well their deadly consequences—and hence the consequences of their own acquiescence.
In South Kordofan the bombing continues to be particularly intense in the Nuba Mountains, and for months has prevented planting and tending of crops; continued bombing now endangers even am eager harvest. Khartoum has prevented all international humanitarian access to a vast population that is now squarely facing starvation. Many people have made the dangerous trek to South Sudan, some 8,000 as of mid-September, and the UN High Commission for Refugees estimated at the time that there were some 500 new arrivals per day.
Civilians in Blue Nile—another region with a long history of marginalization, violence, and tyranny at the hands of the NIF/NCP regime—are consistently reported as enduring daily bombing attacks. Civilian casualties have been high and the number of civilians displaced by bombardment is enormous. Elected governor Malik Agar estimates that half of Blue Nile’s 1.2 million people are now on the move. This is harvest season and it appears increasingly unlikely that those forced from their lands by aerial military violence will be able to survive without international humanitarian aid—which Khartoum has again denied categorically.
Lacking food and humanitarian assistance, and facing increasing violence, civilians from Blue Nile have begun to pour into neighboring Ethiopia, with no end to the exodus in sight:
"The UN Refugee Agency(UNHCR) says 27,500 people have fled the conflict in Blue Nile State to nearby Ethiopia since early September. The agency is due to open a second camp 200kmfrom the border with a capacity of 3,000 people, as fighting and SAF aerial bombardments continue." (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [IRIN] [dateline: Kurmuk], October 13, 2011)
In South Kordofan, the SPLA/M-North leader Abdel Aziz el-Hilu reports that as many as 500,000Nuba have been displaced, and he has assembled locality data to support this claim. The actual figure for displaced persons can’t be known, but now—after more than four months of intense bombings—it is almost certainly more than 300,000, and the number of conflict-affected civilians much greater. Khartoum’s military assaults on Abyei (May20), South Kordofan (June 5), and Blue Nile (September 1) may now have displaced 1 million civilians.
Origins and character of conflict in Blue Nile
Violence in Blue Nile was initiated by Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) on September 1, 2011 in yet another well-prepared assault. Such an assault was predicted in a previous iteration of this update (July 15, 2011), as it was by the elected governor of Blue Nile, Malik Agar. Malik insisted to all who would listen that the longer conflict and ethnic targeting of civilians continued in South Kordofan, the more likely it was that Blue Nile would be drawn into the fighting. Unsurprisingly, Malik’s residence in Damazine was the first target of SAF shelling. Such shelling has now extended southward toward Kurmuk as Khartoum increasingly engages in "stand-off" military actions against the forces so effectively led by Malik (the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North; SPLA/M-N). Large-scale, long-range, and indiscriminate shelling has many of the same effects as aerial bombardment by Antonov aircraft, which are inherently incapable of achieving bombing accuracy sufficient to be militarily effective. It is now the greatest fear of many on the ground in Blue Nile. UN IRIN reports from Kurmuk (October 12, 2011):
"The priority is to move patients from the hospital as quickly as possible, either back home or across the border to Ethiopia where other aid agencies can care for them. ‘The fear that an Antonov might bomb [the hospital] is terrible,’ [Dr. Evan] Atar said, adding: ‘Most of the people who were injured are people who were running. The bomb usually explodes upwards in a conical form, so if you keep down you are fine.’"
But fear in such circumstances can be extremely difficult to control; and the fact that Khartoum is notorious for its deliberate bombing of hospitals is widely known among the people who endured more than 20 years of civil war (see original May 6 report, pp. 14 – 15, 23 – 24). Moreover, as Dr. Atar also notes:
"’In the [civil] war, there was peace in the villages; now they [the Antonovs] bomb even the villages—that’s the problem; and the increasing accuracy of the bombing is leading to rising patient numbers as the weeks go by.’" (UN IRIN[dateline: Kurmuk], October 12, 2011)
While still not sufficiently accurate to be militarily effective, there have been repeated reports of Antonovs increasing their accuracy through crude bomb-sighting mechanisms, and their destructiveness by using bombs with greater explosive power.
Atar, who is the only doctor in Kurmuk, notes the connection between bombing and shelling by Khartoum’s SAF and the looming food shortages: "Food would also become a problem [ ]. ‘First of all the war will continue and the second thing is, now, hunger will come and it is not going to spare anyone unless the people go and become refugees to be helped, but for the people left within, it is going to be a big problem.’ Artillery fire directed at rebels could be the last straw. ‘For now it is the Antonov bombing, but I don’t think I would be here if there is shelling … and no patients could be brought here,’ Atar said" (emphasis added) (UNIRIN October 12). And even now, a major SAF force is on the move toward Kurmuk. A highly alarming report from the Satellite Sentinel Project (September 23), based on substantial satellite photography, indicates a massive formation of armor, troops, and military aircraft: "heavily camouflaged, mechanized units comprising at least a brigade—3,000 troops or more"; "these forces appear to be equipped with heavy armor and artillery, supported by helicopter gunships." Once they are in artillery range, they will likely engage in annihilating shelling, which will compel the SPLA/N to withdraw or risk large numbers of casualties among civilians who have remained (a rapidly dwindling number).
The experience of civilians who are bombed and shelled is captured in an important dispatch from Agence France-Presse (also with a Kurmuk dateline, October 10):
"Anima’s eyes flicker and weep as the doctor sews up the stump of his left arm, before he rolls back on the hospital bed, one of the latest victims in Sudan’s relentless bombing campaign in Blue Nile state. Dr Evan Atar says he has done seven amputations since war broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and fighters loyal to the SPLM-North in Blue Nile state last month. He has treated more than 600others for shrapnel wounds. ‘We are really now running out of supplies. We have been running here and there and crying…. But now where to get it from is really an issue,’ he said. President Omar al-Bashir has blocked foreign aid agencies from entering Blue Nile and nearby South Kordofan state, where a separate conflict between the army and SPLM-North rebels has raged since June."
"Kurmuk’s is the only hospital between neighbouring Ethiopia and Damazin … and Dr Atar is the only doctor. He says the hospital will run out of vital supplies such as saline solution, cotton and gauze this week if no aid arrives, after using up six months’ supplies in one [month]. In another hospital bed, 65-year-old Altom Osman is recovering from a deep shrapnel wound in his back and one in his arm after a bomb hit the village of Sali an hour north of Kurmuk. ‘I was taking some sorghum flour to my wife. We were passing our farm and then the Antonov came immediately and bombed,’ Osman whispered."[full report and data spreadsheet at www.sudanbombing.org]
Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.