Full-scale War Looms as Khartoum Bombs Civilians in South Sudan

By Eric Reeves

November 11, 2011 (SSNA) — During the past 48 hours multiple reports from the ground have confirmed that aircraft of Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) have bombed targets in South Sudan. Amidst rapidly escalating tensions in Sudan, the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime has twice ordered its aircraft to engage in aerial bombardment of areas in South Sudan with substantial civilian populations. Yida in Unity State, which is currently the site of a large refugee population (more than 23,000 are registered), narrowly escaped catastrophe. And in the remote area of Guffa (north of Bunj in the Mabaan region of Upper Nile State) the only medical aid organization in the region is now evacuating its personnel from nearby Doro (even further inside Upper Nile). The November 8 bombing of Guffa reportedly killed 7 people and wounded many others. John Ashworth (Sudan Ecumenical Forum) reports that a church source in the area described the bombing of Guffa as "serious and deliberate," and also reports that, "Many Southern Sudanese have been wounded as a result of the bombing" (email received November 10, 2011).

These attacks are a deliberate, calculated provocation by the increasingly militarized regime in Khartoum, with the ultimate goal of creating a new North/South border, bringing Southern oil fields into the North. This reckless move toward war is evidently dictated in large part by the desperate state of the grossly mismanaged Northern economy; there is also great bitterness within the senior ranks of the military and the most brutal hardliners in the regime, men who feel that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement gave away too much (many generals clearly did not think that Southern secession would actually occur).

The move toward war is confirmed by a report today from the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) that details preparations in Kurmuk (Blue Nile) that will greatly enhance the offensive range of Khartoum’s military aircraft ("Radius of Operations: Sudan Increases Air Attack Capacity"). Antonov-26 "bombers," which have an operating radius of approximately 1,100 kilometers, will be able to reach Juba from Kurmuk. SSP also notes that the "SAF appears to be rapidly building helipads in Kurmuk," suitable for helicopter gunships. These aerial weapons were used to devastating effect in the oil regions during the last years of the civil war, particularly in Unity State, one of the regions targeted on November 10. The report concludes by noting that satellite photography—

" … shows the presence of three attack helicopters and one Antonov at the SAF-controlled Damazin airstrip [further north in Blue Nile]. The presence of air assets and expansion of the airstrip affirms SAF’s growing air capacity in Blue Nile enabling a projection of force throughout Blue Nile, Upper Nile, and southern Sudan."

There have also been credible reports from the SPLA that Khartoum’s militia forces engaged in a cross-border attack on Kuek (November 10, 2011), with many casualties on both sides. Kuek is in the oil-producing southern state of Upper Nile, very near the border with the northern state of White Nile. All of this is consistent with the increasingly bellicose language from nominal head of the regime, Omar al-Bashir. His remarks last Sunday (November 6) were the most strident since the secession of South Sudan on July 9, warning that his regime:

" … was running out of patience in the face of ‘continued provocations’ by South Sudan, saying that Khartoum is ready to return to war …. Addressing a rally on Sunday in Al-Damazin town, the state capital of the Blue Nile State, president Al-Bashir declared that Khartoum was ready to go to war with the south should the latter fire the first shot. The Sudanese president also claimed that his country was in possession of evidences indicating that the south was preparing to launch a war against the Sudanese Army (SAF), threatening that his country would respond in kind. He further said that Khartoum had observed ‘too much patience and self-restraint’ in the face of ‘continued provocations’ by the southern army in Abyei and elsewhere." (Sudan Tribune, November 7, 2011)

Of course this is utterly absurd: the "provocations" have been those of Khartoum’s ground and air military forces, going back over a year (see below). And the restraint by Juba has been remarkable during this time. But the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, while repeatedly and unambiguously stressing his country’s desire for peace, also declared that "despite our commitment to peaceful coexistence, we never allow someone to violate our sovereignty, whatever the conditions" (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Juba], November 10, 2011).

But for all the earnestness of Salva’s words, he well knows that mendacity is the way of the regime, and that the response of the chief SAF military spokesman to confirmed reports of bombing attacks on the territory of South Sudan was entirely predictable:

"Sudan Armed Forces spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad vehemently denied any links to the raid. ‘This information is completely false. We didn’t bomb any camps or any areas inside the borders of South Sudan,’ he told the AFP news agency. ‘What is going on in South Sudan belongs to the southerners. We don’t have any links to this.’" (Agence France-Presse, November 10, 2011)

Khartoum’s ambassador to the UN was today equally mendacious:

"Sudanese Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman told journalists after a Security Council meeting on the matter Friday that the reports were ‘fabrications’ and ‘there was no aerial bombardment.’" (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], November 11, 2011)

Many might find such patent lies breath-taking in light of the fully confirmed details of the bombing attack at Yida. There were several journalists present in Yida, including those of the BBC and Reuters, as well as the nongovernmental humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse, with a long history in Sudan. All confirm that the refugee camp was hit by four bombs, one of which did not detonate: that bomb landed just outside a school where some 200 students were present; if it had detonated, casualties among the children would have been horrific. The UN High Commission for Refugees also condemned the bombing attack on Yida in unequivocal terms today (November 11, 2011).

But we must remember that such conspicuous, outrageous lies—even when directly refuted by all available evidence—are standard operating procedure for the SAF, especially when fighting is intensifying (the pattern has been in evidence in Darfur for many years, and was also present in the weeks before the invasion of Abyei). And in the absence of any meaningful international pressure to date, Khartoum now appears fully prepared to extend its military campaigns from Abyei, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan into South Sudan itself. These bombing attacks, particularly the attack on Yida, are designed to put the Government of South Sudan in an untenable position: for if there is no military response from Juba, Khartoum will continue to press forward and continue its bombing of Southern territory. If the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) does respond militarily, Khartoum will deny any provocation on its part and use this SPLA response as a basis for declaring war.

The generals who now dominate the regime have decided that they will "recover" at least some what was "lost" in the way of oil reserves in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. Although 75 percent of oil reserves lie in South Sudan, the vast majority are perilously close to the North/South border, and Khartoum is evidently calculating that they will be able to seize, and militarily seal off, valuable oil concessions areas and infrastructure. Besides being a blatant violation of the CPA and international law, the effect of such a seizure would have a devastating impact on the civilians in the adjoining regions.

As an SPLM/A spokesman in Juba declared yesterday:

"South Sudan’s army said 18 people died when a Sudan-backed militia attacked one of its military bases in Upper Nile state and warned that the insurgents are planning assaults on oil-producing areas. ‘The attackers were mercenaries heavily armed by Khartoum,’ Colonel Philip Aguer said today in an interview in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. Five South Sudanese soldiers and 13 rebels died in the fighting yesterday, he said. Aguer said the militia is massing forces along the border in preparation for attacks on oil-producing areas in Upper Nile. ‘They want to occupy it and use it as oil that is under the north,’ he said. ‘This is an oil war now.‘" (Bloomberg, November 11, 2011)

Certainly the evidence is now overwhelmingly clear that Khartoum is arming and supporting rebel militias operating in South Sudan, but with sanctuary provided in the North, including Khartoum. Of particular concern are the forces of Bapiny Monytuil, who succeed Peter Gadet as leader of the SSLA militia force, and George Athor. The former has been highly active in Unity State, especially Mayom County (in the very center of the oil region); George Athor is reported by one source to have been involved in the seizure of Kurmuk, and has for many months been wreaking havoc among civilians in Jonglei State. The most recent evidence of Khartoum’s support for these immensely destructive and destabilizing militias comes from the Small Arms Survey (SAS), which found that the forces of both men have been heavily armed with weapons of Chinese manufacture that are factory-new (the weapons were captured by the SPLA in February and March 2011, and analyzed by SAS; the October 20 results are now available). These weapons could only have come from Khartoum.

The road to war has had many conspicuous sign-posts:

•November 2010: Khartoum begins a highly provocative campaign of bombings in South Sudan near the North/South border, attacking more than 10 targets in Western and Northern Bahr el-Ghazal from November 11, 2010 through March 23, 2011. No effective or significant protest of these actions is heard from the international community, a fact not lost on the Khartoum regime.

•2010 – 2011: Khartoum accelerates its military assistance to rebel militia forces in South Sudan, in a bid to destabilize the region prior to and after both the January 2011 referendum and July 9 independence. By late summer 2011 the forces of George Athor and Bapiny Monytuil are beings exhorted by Khartoum to be more aggressive and military assistance is increased.

•January 11, 2011: having denied Abyei the self-determination referendum to which it is entitled by the CPA, Khartoum slowly moves to take de facto military control of the region.

•March 2011: the military build-up in and around Abyei makes clear that the region will fall quickly to the SAF whenever it chooses to attack.

•May 20, 2011: on the basis of a contrived pretext, the SAF and its Arab Misseriya militia allies invade Abyei, seizing control within two days and sending some 120,000 Dinka Ngok, the indigenous population, fleeing to South Sudan.

•June 5, 2011: The SAF and a range of militia forces launch a well-planned assault on South Kordofan, with the Nuba people as the primary target. Bombing of the Nuba Mountains is constant and gravely threatens the agricultural cycle in the region; starvation looms but Khartoum adamantly refuses all international humanitarian access.

•June 12, 2011: Khartoum agrees to withdraw from Abyei with the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force comprising an Ethiopian brigade. Predictably, there has been no withdrawal by the SAF, and no chance for the Ngok to return to their lands.

•June 28, 2011: Khartoum, represented by senior presidential advisor Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, signs a framework agreement with the SPLM-North, committing the two parties to: (1) negotiate a political settlement to differences on governance in the regions, (2) negotiate the future of SPLA-N soldiers, and (3) negotiate a cease-fire.

•July 1, 2011: President Omar al-Bashir, on returning from China, is ordered by the newly empowered generals within the regime to renounce the agreement signed by Nafi’e; al-Bashir does so in a highly inflammatory declaration, promising to continue the campaign of "cleansing" in South Kordofan.

•September 1, 2011: The SAF and a range of militia forces launch yet another military assault, this time on Blue Nile. The same indiscriminate targeting of civilians with artillery and bombing attacks is the centerpiece of the campaign. Again all humanitarian access to civilian populations has been denied by Khartoum.

•November 3: The SPLA/M-N stronghold of Kurmuk falls, and the SAF immediately begins to augment the aerial capacity of the airstrip near Kurmuk, and moves quickly to create landing pads for helicopter gunships. The capital city of Juba is now in range of SAF Antonov "bombers" (retrofitted cargo planes with no militarily useful accuracy, only an extraordinary capacity for civilian terror and destruction).

•November 8: Khartoum bombs Guffa in Upper Nile State, South Sudan; seven people are reported killed, and many wounded. The only medical relief organization in the area has been forced to withdraw, describing the bombing as "serious and deliberate."

•November 9: Khartoum bombs Yida, a refugee camp with more than 23,000 registered civilians who have fled previous violence by Khartoum. One bomb, which does not detonate, falls immediately adjacent to a school where 200 students are present. The attack is confirmed by journalists present and by a major aid organization.

•November 9: The SPLA in Juba reports that Khartoum-backed militia forces ("mercenaries") attacked the South on the ground, specifically the SPLA military base at Kuek, Upper Nile (very near the border with White Nile state in the North) on November 9.

What has been clear, but the Obama administration refuses to see

I have argued for a number of years that events of the sort we have seen over the past five months, and the ruthlessness of NIF/NCP tyranny, would define any resumption of war in Sudan.

I argued in August 23, 2004 (Washington Post, "Regime Change in Sudan") that:

"The challenges adumbrated here [about the imperative of regime change in Sudan] are daunting and politically risky. The consequences of failing to accept these challenges are continuation of genocidal rule and additional hundreds of thousands of deaths."

This is demonstrably the case, even as we have no idea how many hundreds of thousands have died in Darfur and elsewhere in the past seven years—or how many are poised for destruction in the midst of current fighting, denial of humanitarian access, and the concerted destruction of agricultural production.

Even earlier, during the first year of the Darfur genocide, I argued in The Washington Post (February 25, 2004) that:

"Khartoum has so far refused to rein in its Arab militias; has refused to enter into meaningful peace talks with the insurgency groups; and most disturbingly, refuses to grant unfettered humanitarian access. The international community has been slow to react to Darfur’s catastrophe and has yet to move with sufficient urgency and commitment. A credible peace forum must rapidly be created. Immediate plans for humanitarian intervention should begin. The alternative is to allow tens of thousands of civilians to die in the weeks and months ahead in what will be continuing genocidal destruction."

Again, all this is demonstrably true.

In March 2011, I argued in several analyses that the military seizure of Abyei was impending, and that it was only a matter of time before the massive disposition of forces would enable a rapid seizure of the region. Two months later this is exactly what happened.

On June 9, 2011 I argued ("Khartoum Dramatically Escalates War in Sudan") that the linchpin Machakos Protocol (July 2002), guaranteeing the South the right to a self-determination referendum, was deeply undermined by Khartoum’s actions in Abyei and South Kordofan, and that this made war much more likely:

"The case of the people of the Nuba Mountains may be special in a sense, but it all too aptly crystallizes the essential challenge of Machakos. Either Khartoum is confronted forcefully, consistently, and with the sharpest moral focus, or the regime will delay, obfuscate, promise and renege, and delay further—continuing negotiations only in bad faith, calculating merely what best serves their survivalist desires. And if military victory should seem within reach—if resistance in the Nuba Mountains, Southern Sudan and other marginalized areas comes to be regarded as militarily vulnerable—then Machakos may overnight become irrelevant. The massive redeployments of offensive military power that have marked Khartoum’s activities since the cease-fire was agreed to on October 15, 2002 are a clear sign of this possibility."

I also cited a prescient January 2011 report from Julie Flint for Pax Christi, which in detailed fashion made clear the risk of resumed war all along the North/South border:

"Today senior SPLA officers in Southern Kordofan claim that SAF is ‘preparing for war all the way along the border.’ They claim SAF divisions recast as brigades in 2009 remain at division strength; four separate brigades that arrived in 2008-09 constitute another, unacknowledged division; and 40-barrel Katyusha rocket launchers, B-10 anti-tank guns and 120 mm mortars have been moved to the border area. Deputy governor al-Hilu says that despite agreement that SAF would move into 15 assembly points, it now has 55,000 troops in more than 100 garrisons—‘more than needed to control Southern Kordofan; more even than at the height of the jihad.’"  ("The Nuba Mountains: Central to Sudan’s Security," January 2011 http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=24931 )

Five months later, the SPLA claim—the SAF is "preparing for war all the way along the border"—has become proved all too true.

On July 3, 2011 I argued that there was an inherent logic to Khartoum’s resumption of war, given the highly distressed state of the Northern economy: "The Logic of War: Khartoum’s Economy After Southern Secession." What we are seeing now are the most ruthless entailments of this grim "logic."

On September 4, 2011 I argued that we were witnessing in "Blue Nile State … the Resumption of Country-wide War” (The Sudan Tribune, September 4, 2011). Malik Agar had predicted in July that if war were not halted soon in South Kordofan, it would inevitably spread to Blue Nile. Once this prediction was borne out, it has become a great deal more difficult to resist the conclusion that Khartoum intends to resolve all issues in the southern border regions, and outstanding issues with Juba, in military fashion.

The Obama administration: myopia, or cynicism?

At each step of the way, the Obama administration—first under the hopelessly incompetent special envoy Scott Gration, and now under the cynical and expedient Princeton Lyman—has refused to see what is at stake, refused to understand the regime in Khartoum for what it is, and refused to fashion policies that take into account the terrible risk of renewed war (and an interminably destructive military stalemate in Darfur). Given what has been widely reported over many months, and Khartoum’s patterns over many years, this amounts to a perverse myopia.

Most recently Lyman has declared that the U.S. can do nothing but "encourage negotiations"; privately, he declares the U.S. has no cards to play, no leverage to wield, no means of pressuring the regime. This is cynical nonsense (see my November 7 assessment of Lyman’s claim). Moreover, the negotiations that Lyman declares are his sole mandate to encourage have been repeatedly rejected by the regime; indeed, Khartoum has emphatically declared that it will not negotiate, especially with the presence of any third party, and has renounced the only agreement negotiated with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North (SPLA/M-N), the Framework Agreement of June 28, 2011. In late September al-Bashir declared:

"Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir claimed on Wednesday [September 28] that the army would soon capture the rebel stronghold of Kurmuk, in Blue Nile state, insisting there would be no UN-supervised negotiations. ‘The armed forces will be saying prayers of thanksgiving soon in Kurmuk,’ he was quoted as saying by the official SUNA news agency, during a speech in eastern Sudan. ‘The rebellion will be put down and the country’s outlaws defeated …. Sudan will not repeat the experience of being obliged to negotiate and sign protocols under UN supervision,’ he said." (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum] September 28, 2011)

"Sudan will not repeat the experience of being obliged to negotiate and sign protocols under UN supervision …. "

The Obama White House gives no sign of understanding the extent of current dangers, how deeply obdurate Khartoum has become, and how acute the risk of renewed war is without forceful, concerted international action. On Thursday (November 10) a White House statement described the bombings as "outrageous," and that "those responsible must be held accountable." "Held accountable"? Given the Obama administration’s feckless record? This is pure expedience. Indeed, it is worth noting here that implicit within the White House statement is the preposterous suggestion that this phrase—"those responsible"—might attach to some agent other than the Khartoum regime. Ironically, this very refusal to name Khartoum as the responsible party only makes clearer that the Obama administration is unwilling to hold the perpetrators responsible.

Moreover, the administration’s record on speaking out decisively about such brutal acts is skimpy, bordering on non-existent. The State Department also issued a statement on Thursday, declaring that the "indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilian targets always is unacceptable and unjustified." This of course a simple statement of fact, a straightforward matter of international human rights and humanitarian law. To restate the obvious in such fashion is simply a way of appearing to say something without really doing so. So what we have are two Obama administration statements that neither name the Khartoum regime nor specify consequences for further aerial attacks on civilians. The statements are utterly vacuous—this at a time of supreme peril for Sudan.

Indeed, the only thing striking about these statements is their rarity: since President Obama took office in January 2009, there have been over 400 confirmed, deliberate aerial attacks on civilians in Darfur, South Sudan, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan (over the past twelve years there have more than 1,700 confirmed attacks, and likely several times as many that have gone unreported). But the Obama administration record on speaking out about these cruel and barbarous actions is painfully inconsequential; and such declarations as have been made are almost always qualified or framed by some cynical moral equivocating on the issue of responsibility. The truth that needs to be declared, without equivocation, is that these ongoing attacks by the NIF/NCP regime are war crimes, and in aggregate constitute crimes against humanity (Rome Statute, 7.1 [k]). They should be referred to the International Criminal Court as such.

But despite the failure of the Obama administration to speak out in any meaningful way about the hundreds of attacks on civilians during their time in office, such attacks cannot be ignored or elided from the historical record, or absented from policy deliberations. For if war resumes, we may be sure that such attacks will increase dramatically and without any restraint.

In a lengthy analysis and data spreadsheet (www.sudanbombing.org), I have collated all reports from all sources and organizations in the region from 1999 – 2011. The report and spreadsheet represent all confirmed bombing attacks during this period. In Darfur alone there have been more than 200 aerial attacks during the Obama administration, all confirmed by sources on the ground; these barely receive notice from the Obama State Department—certainly nothing has been said that deters Khartoum from bombing where it wishes. And in fact, the Obama Sudan policy-makers have "de-coupled Darfur" from the bilateral discussions with Khartoum as to whether or not the regime should remain on the State Department list of terrorism-sponsoring nations—as if such status were not a matter for rigorous research, but dubious "negotiations."

[I believe that the relationship between Khartoum and Washington is now dominated by this administration’s concerns for counter-terrorism intelligence. The most critical policy decisions about Sudan are made within the National Security Agency and the broader intelligence community (see especially revealing reporting by the Los Angeles Times (2005) and The Washington Post (2010).]

War in Sudan appears imminent and the Obama administration is assuming only the role of spectator, or cheerleader for pointless declarations with no entailments. There is exceedingly little time to avert full-scale conflict, and yet Obama’s people are dithering.


What do aerial attacks on civilian attacks look like?

There is an inevitable abstraction to the phrase "aerial attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets," even as the realities consequent upon such attacks are obscenely brutal and cruel and destructive. In my analysis of such bombing attacks over the past twelve years (www.sudanbombing.org), I organize all extant data from credible sources that allow for confirmation of specific attacks. There are now over 1,700 such confirmed attacks, and very likely many times that number that have never been reported or confirmed. Obviously with a figure as great as 1,700 attacks there can be no fully representative examples. But I believe the examples I offer here—all drawn from my May 6 report "They Bombed Everything that Moved"—are fully relevant to understanding the military and moral character animating these attacks as a whole, particularly given the extreme limitations on Antonov bombing accuracy. Indeed, these attacks are sufficiently incapable of militarily useful accuracy that we are warranted in assuming that all Antonov bombing attacks are ipso facto indiscriminate, and thus war crimes. For as the long and grim history of these attacks makes clear, during every one of the following accounts of aerial attacks, civilians were much more likely than combatants to be killed or injured:

November 9, 2011: the attack on Yida camp, with more than 23,000 registered refugees, came very close to inflicting terrible human casualties. The attack came as the UN was in the midst of providing food relief via helicopter, and one helicopter was on the ground at the time of the bombing. One eyewitness reports:

"There was a 10-meter circumference around the crater where all the grass had been stripped and another 50 meters past was totally burned. Some trees were cut in half or mangled, but no people live in that area. The other location was in the middle of the camp where all the primary school students live and study. The bomb came down through a tree and knocked a big limb to the ground, hitting the back of a house. It sank into the ground, but did not explode." (confidential email received November 10, 2011)

This is a terrible reminder of earlier episodes:

On May 22, 2002 Khartoum’s bombers struck Rier town in Mayom County in what was then Western Upper Nile, now Unity State. Reports by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) were quickly confirmed in wire reports as well as in a report from the ground by an operational humanitarian organization at Rier (Norwegian People’s Aid). This attack is particularly notable, both for its date in relation to the Danforth proposal and for what it shows of Khartoum’s contempt for international opinion; it also illustrates the nature and consequences of aerial assaults on civilians. The attack on Rier occurred at 2am in the morning:

"People were sleeping and therefore taken unawares. The Antonov dropped sixteen bombs in total—eight in one location and eight nearby. Eleven people were killed on the spot and 35 seriously wounded. The situation is described as carnage, with bodies lying everywhere—legs and arms blown off. Most of those wounded were young boys aged 10 and 11 years. The number of those killed is rising—reported now to be 15 killed. NPA [Norwegian People’s Aid] was there eleven hours after the attack to treat and evacuate the wounded. 24 people were evacuated yesterday. More wounded (79) have been evacuated today. The most serious cases have been taken to NPA in Equatoria. The extent of the carnage has made it difficult to cope. Even the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] hospital in Lokichoggio has been overwhelmed by the number of casualties."

"Independent witnesses around the spot to verify the accuracy of the report are two journalists; one French photographer and an East African reporter were there after the attack. A senior U.S. aid official witnessed the evacuation and has seen for the first time the extent of the damage. It is important to note that these attacks were behind the frontlines and also the timings were particularly brutal, catching people (unawares) while they were sleeping. NPA staff on ground described (the bombing) as brutal with bodies littered everywhere. Staff and journalists were totally shocked at what they saw. Reports and pictures will follow." (Report by Norwegian People’s Aid, May 23, 2002)

And the same tactics continue to be used in Darfur, though with no international attention—this because Khartoum denies all human rights monitors, journalists, and has eviscerated the UN Panel of Experts on Sudan that was to have monitored such aerial attacks:

•18 women and 9 children killed in air strike in Jebel Marra, Darfur

(Radio Dabanga, JEBEL MARRA, 28 April 2011)

"Twenty-seven people were killed, including 18 women and 9 children, when an Antonov plane dropped several bombs on the areas of Koloberi and Gurlengbangin the southern part of the Jebel Marra region. Six women were also injured in the air attack. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the airstrikes led to the burning of 27 houses and also the death of sheep and cattle. He stated that the bombed areas had been free of any rebel presence. Radio Dabanga could not contact the army for comments."

•Almost daily Antonov flights in Khor Abeche region

(Radio Dabanga, KHOR ABECHE, January 22, 2011)

"Refugees in the area of Khor Abeche, South Darfur, said the region has been relatively calm, but expressed fear of renewed fighting cautious due to the almost daily flights of Antonov aircraft in the region’s skies. The displaced persons said they also fear the spread of diseases due to lack of food rations and the deteriorating health environment and crowding of 12,000 people. The refugees further said that the recent events in the area led to the displacement of more than 1,200 pupils from the basic school and the burning of at least 60 houses and property, which resulted in the destruction of all the citizens’ savings and food, in addition to 300 head of cattle."

•Air strikes west of Shangil Tobaya, Darfur cause thousands to flee

(Radio Dabanga, SHANGIL TOBAYA, February 24, 2011)

"Two attacking Antonov bombers and invading ground forces yesterday caused thousands to flee to the hills and valleys around North Darfur villages. More than 4 thousand people yesterday fled from the region of Abu Hamra, west of Shangil Tobaya in North Darfur. The ground forces consisted of more than 20 vehicles and local militias, according to one villager who fled from the region. He told Radio Dabanga that two Antonovs dropped a number of bombs on the region before the entry of government forces and local militias from the area Um Dereisaya. The source pointed out that a number of shells fell near a school during school hours."

•Bombing east of Jebel Marra kills 3 women, 2 children

(Radio Dabanga, EAST JEBEL, February 18, 2011)

"Government warplanes killed three women and two children in central Darfur yesterday and Wednesday, according to an official in a rebel movement present in the area. A large number of cattle also perished in the air strikes in the area of East Jebel. Mohamed Ahmed Yagub, Secretary of Humanitarian Affairs of the Liberation and Justice Movement, told Radio Dabanga that Antonov planes and helicopter gunships bombarded areas of East Jebel including the villages of Tokumarre, Massalit, Hashaba, Wadi Mora and Dali. The attacks killed three women, two children and a large number of livestock and camels, he said. The bombs also destroyed water sources and caused people in these villages to flee. He added that bombardment is still going on west of Shangil Tobaya and near Shaddad Camp."

•4 days of airstrikes causes at least 1 death and destruction of school

(Radio Dabanga, EL FASHER, April 4, 2011)

"In areas of North and West Darfur heavy airstrikes were witnessed on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Besides many injuries, one woman was killed, and a school was destroyed. [ ] In different airstrikes on Saturday a woman was killed and three others were wounded, including a four-year-old female child when an Antonov aircrafts dropped bombs that hit Sebit Market in Hashaba, North of Kutum. Other eyewitnesses told Radio Dabanga that militias loyal to the government backed by air support attacked areas in the vicinity of Shangil Tobayi on Thursday. One of the witnesses confirmed to Radio Dabanga that government forces clashed with the forces of Mini Minawi near Abu Seyquit and that the sounds of heavy weapons and explosions along with the continuing airstrikes caused panic amongst many citizens."

The deliberate use of Antonovs to target civilians is clear in a Human Rights Watch account of the December 17, 2004 attack on the town of Labado. Many thousands of civilians from surrounding villages had fled to Labado in the belief that the town’s connection to a particular government official would prevent assault. They were wrong:

"By December 16, [2004] the brigade of the 16th Infantry Division under the command of Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al Hajir Mohamed (the same commander who led the attacks on Marla and Ishma the previous week) had advanced to within eight kilometers of Labado. According to credible sources, the December 17 attack began in a village west of Labadoin the early morning. At midday, an Antonov began circling Labado and bombed south of the town, then dropped four bombs east and then north. The bombing all around the town confused the residents, who were uncertain which way to run. Then the Antonov bombed the central marketplace. The government also reportedly used helicopter gunships. According to an international observer who interviewed displaced residents of Labado, there was a small contingent of SLA [rebel] troops living in Labado, in one specific compound, but the SLA troops fled as soon as the attack began." (emphasis added)

"Displaced people from Labado said that hundreds of Janjaweed militiamen then attacked the town and killed, burned, and looted at will. Government troops followed the militias, also killing civilians and destroying parts of the town. Some families were reportedly locked in their huts and burned to death. A large number of people were gathered in the school and apparently executed there. At least sixty civilians were reported to have been killed."

•Extremely heavy bombing was reported north of El Geneina (in Kulbus Locality) in February, and continued through April. The campaign was of the same character as the worst atrocities from 2003 – 2004. Human Rights Watch declared at the time:

"The government [of Sudan] and allied militias have responded [to JEM control of these towns] by indiscriminately attacking villages without distinguishing between the civilian population and rebel combatants, in violation of international humanitarian law." [ ]

"The attacks were carried out by Janjaweed militia and Sudanese ground troops, supported by attack helicopters and aerial bombardments. ‘The Sudanese government is once again showing its total disregard for the safety of civilians,’ said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. ‘This return to large-scale attacks on villages will be catastrophic for Darfur’s civilians, because they’re completely unprotected.’" (Human Rights Watch press release [New York], February 10, 2008; emphasis added)

Consequences of extensive, deliberate, and indiscriminate aerial assaults on Silea, Sirba, Abu Suruj, and other towns and villages north of El Genenia. There was no evidence of rebel presence in these towns at the time of attack, and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported (February 10, 2008):

"Up to 12,000 ‘terrified’ refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region have fled across the border to neighboring Chad after the latest air strikes by the Sudanese military and thousands more may be on their way. [ ] Most of the refugees so far are men, [UNHCR spokeswoman Helene Caux] said. But the arrivals are telling UNHCR that ‘thousands of women and children are on their way’ to Chad, she added."

"Caux said UNHCR was looking at ways to assist people still trapped in the three towns bombed by Sudan. ‘Thousands of households have been directly affected by the bombings and attacks,’ she said." (Associated Press [dateline: Geneva], February 10, 2008; emphasis added)

The extremely reliable Opheera McDoom of Reuters reported ([dateline: El Fasher], February 10, 2008) that Khartoum’s attacks "forced an estimated 200,000 from their homes." Humanitarian estimates subsequently put the figure for newly displaced persons in the range of 50,000-60,000, but this was a very conservative estimate.

Eyewitness accounts by civilians are horrific:

"A refugee from Sileah told UNHCR that ground attacks by the Janjaweed militia, allegedly supported by Sudanese Antonov aircraft, nearly destroyed Abu Surouj and reportedly caused heavy damage to four camps for internally displaced people. UNAMID received preliminary reports, ‘confirming that an estimated 200 casualties have resulted from the fighting, and the town of Abu Suruj, which is home to thousands of civilians, has been burned to the ground.’" (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], February 10, 2008)

•"On a map of Darfur, the [UN Panel of Experts for Darfur report] showed over 100 black dots where it said incidents of ‘aerial bombardment’ had taken place between October [2006] and January [2007]. Asked who else but the government could be responsible for the bombings, [Khartoum’s UN ambassador] Abdelhaleem said: ‘These are big lies, big lies.’ He accused the [UN Panel of Experts for Darfur] of including the map ‘to make some people in this area happy.’ ‘They want to hear this music—that Sudan did that, the government did that, they bombed here, they killed there. This is the music that is very much enjoyed by some people here,’ Abdelhaleem said." (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], April 20, 2007)

"Aerial attacks by the Government of Sudan on civilians in Darfur continue, with the UN reporting air attacks in North Darfur at the end of June [2007]. Thousands of displaced villagers have fled the Jebel Moon/Sirba area in West Darfurafter renewed attacks on areas under control of armed opposition groups by government of Sudan forces supported by Janjawid. Local people said that helicopters brought in arms to the government and Janjawid forces. In South Darfur a Sudanese government Antonov aircraft carried out bombing raids following a 2 August [2007] attack by the opposition Justice and Equality Movement on the town of Adila, targeting villages and water points (emphasis added). Since then there have been a number of Sudanese government Antonov bombing raids on Ta’alba, near the town of Adila, and on 13 August [2007] the villages of Habib Suleiman and Fatahawere bombed.” (Amnesty International, August 24, 2007, News Service No. 161)

Human Rights Watch reports of the Mornei area of West Darfur:

"On February 6 [2004], the bombing started around Mornei. With the arrival of the Janjaweed the burning started. By February 12, there were forty-five thousand displaced and by February 25, there were sixty thousand displaced [in Mornei]. At least one hundred wounded, mainly from bullet wounds, and mainly women and children of varied age, arrived in Mornei. The Sudanese government and Janjaweed militias started in the north…. During one ten-day period there was bombing every night. We could see the columns of smoke rising outside Mornei. There were special army and police forces in Mornei, from Khartoum. They would go out on mission every day and come back. Helicopters came and took the wounded Janjaweed away from Mornei." (page 28; emphasis added)

Returning to South Sudan:

On February 20, 2002 the village of Bieh (in the middle of Concession Block 5a, in what is now Unity State), just to the east of road construction, endured an especially cruel and destructive aerial attack. Two SAF Mi-24 helicopter gunships were deployed, both of which had flown over Bieh twice earlier in the day. On the final pass, in broad daylight, one gunship hovered overhead and conducted precautionary reconnaissance. The other helicopter gunship moved to a low hover position and then directed machine-gun fire and numerous rockets into a crowd of mainly women and children who had gathered for a UN World Food Program food distribution. Twenty-four civilians were killed (including children), scores were injured, and many fled into the bush without food. A former high-level Western official who was camped near Bieh on an assessment mission at the time of the attack reported that even more casualties were discovered burned to death in the village tukuls that had been attacked with rockets.

Humanitarian sources confirmed that there was no military presence in or near Bieh. Moreover, the faces of the pilot and gunner could be clearly seen from the ground by WFP workers; the gunner and pilot, in turn, could clearly see that they were firing on noncombatants. This was made explicit at the time by Laura Melo, WFP spokeswoman in Nairobi:

"’The helicopter was flying low enough that our staff could see inside the helicopter and a man inside firing a machine gun. How could they not see that there was food being distributed, that women and children were receiving food?’ Melo said." (Associated Press [dateline: Nairobi], February 28, 2002)

In its preface to a February 2000 study ("Living under aerial bombardments: Report of an investigation in the Province of Equatoria, Southern Sudan"), MSF-Switzerland reported that:

"Since the beginning of the year 1999 until this very moment, we have been experiencing and witnessing direct aerial bombings of the hospital, while full of patients, and of the living compound of our medical team (10 bombings in 1999, a total of 66 bombs dropped, with 13 hitting the hospital premises) [emphasis in original]. Facing the sharp increase of aerial bombardments in this region during 1999, frequently aimed at civilian structures such as hospitals, in November 1999, we requested an investigation of these events and their consequences for the civilian population in the area."

"The elements of this investigation, included in the report herewith, tend to demonstrate that the strategy used by the Sudanese Air Force in this region, is deliberately aimed at targeting civilian structures, causing indiscriminate deaths and injuries, and contributes to a climate of terror among the civilian population. Furthermore, evidence has been found and serious allegations have been made that weapons of internationally prohibited nature are regularly employed against the civilian population such as cluster bombs and bombs with ‘chemical contents.’" (emphasis added)

The quantitative scale of the bombings is reported in Section 4.1 of the MSF report:

"According to a non-exhaustive list of bombings, more than sixty bombings took place between January 1999 and January 2000 in town and villages such as Narus, Chukudum, Labone, Kajo Keji, Maridi, Yei, Ikotos, Loka, Lainya, Parajok, Tali Post and Morobo. During the same period, a total of almost 400 bombs had been launched on the civilian population and civilian targets, killing at least 22 persons and wounding 51."

"The hospital of Kajo Keji in which MSF works has become a particularly privileged target of the Sudanese Government. The year 1999 started and ended with a bombing of the hospital. On 13 January 1999, five bombs were dropped on the hospital. Three of them destroyed the facilities used for the vaccination campaigns and seriously damaged the operation room and the consultation units. Fortunately, no casualties were reported. At the end of December 1999, another five bombs were dropped on the hospital."

On November 11, 2000 one of the most notorious bombing attacks of the war occurred in Yei (Central Equatoria): 18 – 19 civilians were killed, 53 were wounded (eleven critically), as six (of fourteen) bombs hit the central marketat the busiest time of day. Antonovs would in subsequent days circle Yei without dropping bombs in a concerted effort to terrorize residents. A videotape of the aftermath of the Yei bombing, viewed by the author, is in the possession of U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf. Significant bombing continued through the end of 2000, and included a particularly large number of humanitarian targets.

Videotape was fortuitously made of another extraordinarily destructive bombing, that of the Comboni School in Kauda (Nuba Mountains) (also viewed by this writer). On February 8, as outdoor classes were beginning at 9am in the morning, a bomb landed in the middle of a group of students just beginning their English reading text. Fourteen children and a teacher were killed, and seventeen were wounded, many severely. There was no military presence anywhere near the Comboni School; moreover, Khartoum had declared a cease-fire in January. And yet when Dierdiri Ahmed—Khartoum’s ambassador to Kenya (and now a central figure in defining the regime’s policies in Abyei)—was shown the videotape of the carnage, he declared "the bombs landed where they were supposed to land" (Reuters [dateline: Nairobi], February 11, 2000).

In June of 2000 the UN reported that 32 people had been killed during the bombing of the Catholic mission in Kajo Keji. On August 7 and 8, 2000 a series of bombings in and near Akuem (Northern Bahr el Ghazal) killed eight, wounded 200, and forced a suspension of Operation Lifeline Sudan, the critical humanitarian lifeline to the war-distressed populations of South Sudan.

Other early bombing events were extraordinarily destructive. Norwegian People’s Aid reported on April 7, 1998 that:

"Yei Hospitalwas bombed this morning, between 10:50am and 11:10am, by Government of Sudan airplanes. Thirteen bombs were directed at Yei Hospital—which is supported by the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA). So far eleven (11) people have been found killed as a consequence of the attack. One of the killed was a local employee of the NPA. The recently rehabilitated surgical unit at the hospital was demolished by one bomb. Just afterwards the bomb shelter, in which many had sought shelter, received a direct hit by another bomb."

Again, there have been more than 1,700 such attacks confirmed since 1999.

Eric Reeves is professor of English language and literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He has spent the past 12 years working full-time as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively both in the US and internationally. He has testified several times before the Congress and is author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.”

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