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Mass Graves Identified in Kadugli (South Kordofan): The End of Agnosticism

By Eric Reeves

July 15, 2011 (SSNA) -- A new report from the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) concludes that available evidence "corroborate[s] claims that the Sudan Armed Forces troops are systematically hunting and killing civilians" in Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan (North Sudan). Moreover, the evidence demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that there are mass graves in Kadugli, as has been reported for weeks by Nuba sources, including eyewitnesses who have escaped to South Sudan. The SSP report combines four independent eyewitness accounts with satellite photography to reveal the existence of three mass-grave sites. As the report grimly notes:

"Digital Globe satellite imagery analyzed by Satellite Sentinel Project shows no discernable activity at the alleged mass gravesite near Tilo School on 17 June. However, as of 4 July, three excavated areas measuring approximately 26 by 5 meters are visible less than 1 kilometer south of the Tilo School."

White bags of irregular size, but consistent with human body dimensions, are conspicuously heaped near these gravesites, according to both satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts; they are almost certainly body bags containing the remains of other victims. Given the dimensions of the three gravesites---each approximately twenty-six meters by five meters (eighty feet by sixteen feet)---they could certainly contain thousands of corpses, perhaps many thousands if the graves are deep enough. SSP does not speculate on this issue, but does note the presence of heavy earth-moving equipment.

The SSP report implicitly provides a timeline, which begins with the June 5 commencement of large-scale military activities in South Kordofan by the northern Sudanese military (SAF) and militia groups like the notorious Popular Defense Forces (PDF). The SSP reports that mass slaughter began almost at the very moment that Khartoum gave the go-ahead to its military and militia forces:

"Four eyewitness accounts communicated to SSP allege that SAF and Government of Sudan-aligned forces began as early as 5 or 6 June to search house-to-house for SPLM supporters and others, reportedly killing those that they found. As of 10 July, according to one witness, the house-to-house searches continue to occur."

An eyewitness who has since escaped reports to SSP that on June 8,

"SAF killed an unknown number of civilians because of their suspected support for the SPLM in Tilo village, near the Tilo Secondary School, in Kadugli on 8 June. The SAF troops arrived at Tilo in light trucks with machine guns mounted on the back of the vehicles, according to the eyewitness. Five SAF soldiers allegedly held down one civilian while one of the soldiers slit the civilian’s throat. The same witness also reports seeing and hearing SAF soldiers seal the doors of houses in Tilo and set the houses afire, burning alive civilians trapped inside."

A second, separate eyewitness reports to SSP that on the same day,

" least two pits were dug...less than a kilometer south of the Tilo School in Kadugli and approximately 100 meters from a radio tower. The eyewitness reports seeing a yellow-colored earthmover being driven by someone dressed as a civilian. The vehicle had a 'bucket with teeth' on the front of the machine. The bucket could move from side to side, and it would lift up earth and deposit it elsewhere. The eyewitness estimated that the apparent size of the pits measured approximately 10 meters long by 5 meters wide, but the individual could not confirm the site dimensions."

This same witness reports that by that evening,

"...SAF soldiers, apparent Government of Sudan-aligned militia, men in brown uniforms consistent with those worn by prisoners at the local prison, and individuals dressed in a way consistent with Sudan Red Crescent Society (SRCS) workers were seen driving in large, green trucks in the vicinity of the site. Given allegations that Government of Sudan-aligned intelligence officers had been reportedly posing as SRCS workers near the UN Mission in Sudan compound last month, it is unknown whether or not those individuals in SRCS-consistent dress, including a white apron with a red crescent, were in fact affiliated with the SRCS. Impersonating a Red Cross or Red Crescent worker can constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Large green trucks were moving back and forth from the site. The eyewitness claims that dead bodies had been picked up from the market area of Kadugli and from El Gardud and Tilo villages in Kadugli around that time."

SSP also reports that "a third eyewitness account [received June 12] also alleges the presence of a mass grave at Tilo School."

These eyewitnesses report further

"...that Government of Sudan-aligned forces are putting dead bodies, in some cases, in what appear to be white plastic tarps or other body bags. Another eyewitness alleges that people were taken and killed by SAF troops and police officers in front of their houses near the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) facilities around 6 or 7 June. On approximately 7 or 8 June, the witness saw what he called white 'Mitsubishi trucks' picking up bodies south of the ECS guesthouse in Kadugli. "

A month later, the horror is continuing:

"Dozens of white-colored light vehicles are seen in areas throughout Kadugli on 4 July. Heavy trucks consistent with white-colored transport trucks are visible as well. These vehicles appear consistent with SAF and Government of Sudan-aligned militia vehicles previously observed by SSP at Government of Sudan-aligned encampments and those described by multiple eyewitnesses as being present in Kadugli town. On 4 July, a pile of white bundles is clearly visible in Kadugli town near the ECS facilities, just south of the church and guesthouse. White-colored vehicles consistent with those used by SAF and Government of Sudan-aligned militia are present in that area. Tracking consistent with the presence of heavy vehicles is visible there as well."

There is nothing in the SSP report more recent than July 4, except the compelling report by the Nuba survivor that these "house-to-house searches continue to occur"; we certainly have no idea how many have been imprisoned, killed, or interred, in the past ten days and before.

The implications of these reports are clear: evidence of genocide was clear only three days after Khartoum began its military major military actions in South Kordofan; this strongly argues that planning must have occurred well before the date the assault began. In short, these accounts strongly suggest a carefully orchestrated campaign of ethnically targeted destruction, and a follow-up effort to hide the evidence from international witnesses. If men in Kadugli dug these ghastly scenes of atrocity, it was in Khartoum that the digging was ordered, by men who knew full well that the graves would be filled with Nuba people.

Genocidal intent here is terrifyingly conspicuous, as it is in the report of "Yusef," a Nuba resident of Kadugli who told Agence France-Presse that he had been informed by a member of the PDF militia that they had been provided with plenty of weapons and ammunition, and a standing order: "'He said that they had clear instructions: just sweep away the rubbish. If you see a Nuba, just clean it up. He told me he saw two trucks of people with their hands tied and blindfolded, driving out to where diggers were making holes for graves on the edge of town."  Versions of "Yusef's" account have echoed in countless reports from those Nuba fortunate enough to escape Kadugli and its environs.

But if genocidal intent is clearest in the targeted destruction and burial of the Nuba people in Kadugli, it is most consequential in the regions away from the capital, particularly in the form of systematic denial of humanitarian access to desperately need African populations in the Nuba.  As I have argued previously here, indigenous people in the Nuba Mountains have been terrorized into fleeing their homes and their crops, living in the hillsides with only the shelter of caves; this enforced flight comes at the most critical moment in the agricultural cycle for planting and tending.  Without a harvest in the fall, and given the total obstruction of the UN World Food Program and other humanitarian organizations who have distributed food in the Nuba, famine and starvation will again stalk the people of this region, as was so brutally the case in the 1990s genocide.

"Crime Scene: Evidence of Mass Graves in Kadugli" should end all skepticism about the nature of the human destruction in South Kordofan. Such skepticism, expressed by U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman and others in the Obama administration, stands revealed as having accommodated Khartoum's genocidal ambitions. The SSP report contains key eyewitness accounts that confirm, independently of each other, what has been widely reported by many other Nuba and some Western eyewitnesses: the execution of Nuba and others with "Southern sympathies" has obliged the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and its Arab militia allies to engage in the grim and massive task of covering up the evidence of slaughter that has claimed an untold number of lives.

The SSP report suggests a terrible fate for some 7,000 Nuba civilians who had sought refuge with the UN in Kadugli. On June 20 the Associated Press reported:

"Sudanese intelligence agents posed as Red Crescent workers and ordered refugees to leave a UN-protected camp in a region where Sudan's Arab military has been targeting a black ethnic minority, according to an internal UN report obtained Thursday [June 23]. The report said agents from the National Security Service donned Red Crescent aprons at a camp in Kadugli, South Kordofan and told the refugees to go to a stadium for an address by the governor and for humanitarian aid. The refugees were threatened with forced removal from the camp if they did not comply.

"The report...does not say what happened to the camp residents after were forced to leave the camp."

This the world must know; there is no turning away.  For those watching from afar, there is only the question: "does it matter that the world knows?"  Likely answers don't bear much close moral inspection.

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

Hillary Clinton, Sudan, and the Policies of Equivocation

from The New Republic July 13, 2011

By Eric Reeves

July 13, 2011 (SSNA) -- In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post about the independence of South Sudan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a conspicuous example of the Obama administration’s policy of equivocation when it comes to the world’s newest nation and the country it split from last weekend. Namely, the op-ed disingenuously equated the Khartoum regime with its adversaries in South Sudan, in the embattled regions of South Kordofan and Abyei, and in Darfur.

The evident logic of such false equivalence is that it’s necessary to keep Khartoum engaged in negotiations: If "both sides," as Clinton refers to them repeatedly, are equally responsible for violence and for the failure to resolve outstanding issues like the North-South border delineation, then diplomacy will be able to exert pressure to compromise. Never mind that compromise--indeed, many compromises---have already been made by the South; the real problem here is that President Omar Al Bashir's regime has refused to live up to the agreements.

The disputed region of Abyei is a perfect example. Despite the compromises already embodied in the Abyei Protocol from 2004 and a "final and binding" ruling in 2009 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, both Clinton and Scott Gration, the former U.S. envoy to Sudan, pushed last fall for South Sudan to "compromise" further on Abyei. This had the effect of convincing Khartoum that there was more to gain from further intransigence in negotiations, and the ultimate consequence was the May 2011 invasion of Abyei by Al Bashir'smilitary. Although the U.N. has said it will deploy Ethiopian peacekeepers to Abyei, Khartoum now exerts de fact military control over the region, and the population of indigenous Ngok Dinka has been forced to flee to South Sudan. The prospects for long-term security are bleak.

Clinton‘s take? "The violence that has flared in Abyei in recent months cannot be allowed to return and jeopardize the larger peace." No assignment of responsibility, even though the violence was clearly instigated by Khartoum and culminated in the seizure of the region in a period of just two days. This only works to encourage Khartoum’s conviction that, when the Ethiopian force leaves (assuming it effectively deploys in the first place), it will retain control of the region. President AlBashir more or less confirmed this in a much-noted interview with the BBC on July 10. He said Abyei will always belonged to the North, unless there is a referendum---long-promised to the region’s people, but denied because of newly contrived arguments over residency---in which voters choose to be part of the South. Of course, he said this referendum must include migrating Arab tribes who are loyal to the North and would thus almost certainly skew the vote in Khartoum’s favor.

Clinton also erred when she wrote, "One urgent step both sides must take is agreeing to a cessation of hostilities in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan, which started in early June." This is wildly misleading. The reality is that, after signing a vague framework agreement that had such cessation of hostilities as its key agenda item, AlBashir disowned the commitment, saying the "cleansing" of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains would continue. Those to be "cleansed," of course, are the African Nuba people. The leaders of South Sudan and the chief negotiator for the Nuba, former deputy governor Abdel Aziz El Hilu, are desperate for a true ceasefire and commitment to resolving underlying issues, but Khartoum has formally withdrawn from the talks.

We’ve seen plenty of previous examples of the Obama administration's policies and rhetoric of equivocation. For instance, after the devastating assault on Khor Abeche (South Darfur) in December 2010 by Khartoum and its janjaweed allies, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer noted the many civilian casualties and thousands of displaced persons, but then went on to declare:

"This attack comes at a time that we are also seeing increased evidence of support to militant proxies from the Governments of Sudan and Southern Sudan. All Sudanese leaders have a responsibility to protect civilian populations---to do otherwise is unacceptable."

In other words, Hammer was flatly comparing more than eight years of genocidal predations by Khartoum-directed militias to actions that, while troubling, were of relatively little consequence. This is outrageous distortion---and an apparent effort at a soothing even-handedness meant to placate Khartoum. (It's also not clear that South Sudan has ever supported rebels in Darfur.) Given the U.S. response, it shouldn't be surprising that the North’s military campaign that began in Khor Abeche continues today.

Clinton and other U.S. diplomats should understand that being an honest broker does not necessitate accommodating genocide or other violence. Yet disingenuousness and diplomatic equivocation continue to be the hallmarks of the Obama administration's Sudan policy. Tragically, the consequences of this policy are coming into exceedingly grim focus.

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author of A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

The Three Biggest Threats to Newly Independent South Sudan

By Eric Reeves

July 11, 2011 (SSNA) -- The independent Republic of South Sudan emerged Saturday from the ravages of half a century of war, deprivation, destruction, and displacement. Its freedom was guaranteed overwhelmingly by a self-determination held last January, and, today, it is impossible to resist the celebratory urges evident in Juba, the new capital. But this birth occurs against an exceedingly grim backdrop that suggests resumed war between Sudan and, now, South Sudan is much closer than diplomats and analysts have allowed themselves to say, or perhaps even think. The threats of conflict in the border regions of Abyei and South Kordofan are acute and growing more so by the day; Khartoum also continues to bomb civilian targets in the northern part of Unity State (which is in the new South Sudan) and supports deadly renegade militias.

Indeed, war has steadily become more likely than peace. Having hoped and worked for more than twelve years to help bring a just peace to Sudan, I find only bitterness in offering this warning, but the actions and statements by Khartoum require a hard-headed assessment that seems beyond U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his key under-secretaries, the African Union's Thabo Mbeki, and the leaders of nearly all European countries.

Why such a bleak outlook? Let’s attend to three key threats to peace.

Abyei. This region has long been promised its own referendum to determine whether it will be part of Sudan or South Sudan, but it has yet to take place, largely because of disagreements over who should be allowed to vote: only the native Ngok Dinka, or also the migrating Misseriya. The North military seized Abyei in May, but the "Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of Abyei Area," signed by Khartoum and Juba on June 16, seemed to give some breathing space to negotiations over this contested region. Both sides agreed to an Ethiopian "interim security force for Abyei," and the U.N. Security Council authorized this measure on June 27. The ambitious schedule outlined in the agreement would have us believe that, on June 28, an "advance party" of Ethiopian forces would deploy; that, by June 30, the "rules of engagement" and "status of forces agreement" (or, defining the rights and responsibilities of the Ethiopian force) would be settled; that, by July 2, a second advance party would deploy; and that, by July 6, the "main body" would be sent to the region. But it is the height of the rainy season in Sudan, and deployment of an armored brigade of thousands of soldiers is a logistical nightmare. Khartoum is also prepared to create any number of bureaucratic obstacles to sending the troops into Abeyi. So is anyone surprised that no significant deployment has yet occurred?

The Ethiopians will eventually arrive, and they are good soldiers. But they won't have a human rights mandate or clear rules for how they should engage Khartoum’s Arab militia allies. These gaps in their mission are critical, since there can be little doubt that, even if Khartoum’s regular forces withdraw to advantageous positions outside Abyei, their proxies---perhaps claiming to be indigenous residents of the region---will remain. Certainly, the more than 110,000Ngok Dinka who fled in May will not feel secure enough to return.

And how long will the Ethiopians stay? There was grumbling within the Security Council about the cost of this mission and suggestions that it be made smaller (it is, after all, the third very costly peacekeeping operation currently in Sudan). Sooner or later---and I believe sooner---the U.N. will not renew the six-month mandate of this "interim security force," and there will be nothing left to prevent Khartoum from seizing the region again.

Khartoum's position of strength on the Abyei issue was reflected in comments picked up yesterday by The Standard in Kenya: Kamal Ismail Saeed, Khartoum's ambassador to Nairobi, declared, "We cannot talk about a deal on Abyei. This is unlikely, atleast in the coming years." That is, unless the South is willing to allow the Misseriya, who migrate from the north, to vote in a self-determination referendum, which would allow Khartoum to rig the electoral results in ways painfully familiar. It's clear the regime is prepared to wait s long as it takes for this to happen, knowing that Abyei is too dangerous for the Ngok to return, and that it enjoys defacto military control. And this makes nonsense of Khartoum's commitment, per the temporary agreement signed in June, "to resolve peacefully the final status of Abyei."

South Kordofan. Violence continues to accelerate in South Kordofan, which is on the border between the North and South. It is directed overwhelmingly against the African Nuba people, particularly in the Nuba Mountains. The humanitarian situation has become catastrophic, as aerial attacks by bombers, helicopter gunships, and military jets have made re-supply of necessities impossible and compelled almost all relief organizations to withdraw. In addition to preventing relief efforts, these assaults are intended to disrupt the current agricultural cycle (it is the key moment in the planting and tending season). It’s clear the North's intention is to starve the Nuba and the northern arm of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (which fought with the South during the civil war). At the same time, heavy arms are pouring into Kadugli and Dilling, the two major towns controlled by Khartoum’s military. These include tanks, artillery, APCs, "technicals," and 40-barrelrocket launchers, fearsome weapons capable of shredding an entire village in a matter of seconds.

I've discussed in an earlier article the limitations of the "Framework Agreement," which was signed by Khartoum and Juba on June 28 and meant to deal with "political and security arrangements for Blue Nile [another border region] and South Kordofan."Though a "cessation of hostilities agreement" was clearly central to the "agenda," the document has amounted to nothing more than an agreement to keep negotiating. And, already, President Omar Al Bashir has reneged on his side of the bargain: Shortly after his return from meetings in Beijing, state-controlled SUNA reported, "[Al Bashir] directed the armed forces to continue their military operations in South Kordofan until a cleansing of the region is over” (emphasis added). Bashir also declared that the popular Nuba leader Abdel Aziz El Hilu is "an outlaw that needed to be brought to justice for committing crimes such as killing innocent people."

What does this mean for South Sudan? AlBashir's actions ensure not only that his regime's brutal counterinsurgency will continue in South Kordofan, but also that Juba will feel enormous pressure after independence to assist their brothers in arms, the SPLA/North. The same will be true if fighting breaks out in the Blue Nile region, which is a growing possibility.

U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said recently, "It's vital that the United Nations be allowed to maintain a full peacekeeping presence in these areas for an additional period of time."

Vital or not, Khartoum has adamantly rejected any U.N. presence in the north after June 9. And, given the military threats already made against the U.N. mission, it’s likely there will be little debate at the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations about what to do: All personnel who haven’t been pulled out already will be shortly.

Southern renegade militias supported by Khartoum. In addition to direct military threats from Khartoum, South Sudan faces armed opposition from within. There are some six or seven significant renegade militia groups, the most dangerous of them headed by George Athor (a former SPLA general) and Peter Gadet (who changed sides constantly during and after Sudan's long civil war). These two men and their ruthless forces pose perhaps the greatest security threat to the South, and they are backed by Khartoum. (The regime also supported these sorts of militias in Darfur.) These forces have one purpose: to destabilize and demoralize the civilian population in South Sudan. There is no easy solution to this threat, but it must be considered by any who hope to understand what's in store for the world's newest nation.

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

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