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Abyei and South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains: Under Siege, Deeply at Risk

By Eric Reeves
July 1, 2011
July 2, 2011 (SSNA) -- What are Khartoum's ambitions in South Kordofan and Abyei? What is the significance of the two agreements concerning these key regions signed by representatives of the regime? The agreement on South Kordofan (and Blue Nile) declared that in principle Khartoum was committed to a cessation of hostilities agreement. But Reuters reports today that on his return from China, President Omar al-Bashir made clear that this is yet another agreement signed expediently and one that he has no intention of honoring (one must surmise that the Chinese have done little to pressure al-Bashir and the regime to come to some reasonable diplomatic settlement). In the "Framework Agreement “on South Kordofan and Blue Nile (June 28), Nafi'e Ali Nafi'e---the increasingly powerful senior figure within the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party---officially committed the regime "to work to agree both [sic] immediate and sustainable security arrangements for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile," specifically an "Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities in Southern Kordofan." But today we heard a rather different commitment:

"Sudan's President OmarHassan al-Bashir said the army would continue its campaign in the flashpoint of South Kordofan, state news agency SUNA said on Friday, dashing hope of a cease-fire ahead of southern secession. In his first comments since returning from a visit to China, Bashir seemed to contradict comments by a northern official this week that north and south had agreed 'in principle' on a cease-fire in the northern oil state."

"'He directed the armed forces to continue their military operations in South Kordofan until a cleansing of the region is over,' SUNA quoted Bashir as telling worshippers during Friday prayers." (dateline: Khartoum)

Celebration of the agreement by the AU's expedient Thabo Mbeki and the UN's feckless Ban Ki-Moon would seem distinctly premature. And in the absence of a cessation of hostilities agreement, we must ask what this war will look like going forward. Despite continuing agnosticism on the part of U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman about what is occurring in South Kordofan, the images of aerial destruction continue to pour out of the region, as do reports of house-to-house arrests and executions of Nuba civilians; a virtual shutdown of humanitarian access in the region; a massive build-up of weapons and armor in Kadugli (capital of South Kordofan); and relentless aerial assaults on civilians, humanitarians, churches, and other non-military targets in the Nuba Mountains.

The results of the present campaign have been horrific. I have assembled an album of my own photographs from 2003, a time of relative peace in the Nuba, and photographs from this past month (June 2011), mainly from Nuba sources. The latter are images of the waral-Bashir vows to continue until the Nuba Mountains have been "cleansed." (Warning: many of the photographs are disturbingly gruesome---

I have also assembled a range of photographs, from various sources, that chronicle the displacement from Abyei of the Dinka Ngok to the South, the destruction and looting of Abyei town, as well as the plight of those displaced to Akok, Turelei, Wau, and other Southern towns. As Sudan moves into the heaviest part of the rainy season, water-borne diseases will become increasingly frequent and dangerous. A normally optimistic program director for a Western humanitarian organization, with a long history in this area, informs me that he sees only a very grim future for these people---

A great deal of this has been eminently foreseeable. I argued on March 9, 2011:

"[Khartoum's] military strategy comes ever more clearly into focus: seize Abyei as far south as possible, then negotiate final status of the region from a position of military strength...."

"If war resumes in Abyei, it is likely to spread quickly to the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile. The entire North/South border could become one long military front, particularly in the oil regions of Unity State and South Kordofan. Unless Khartoum is sent the clearest possible signal that it will gain nothing by such offensive military action, including arming and encouraging Misseriya militias, the fighting in Abyei will increase. The UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIS) is neither willing nor able to intervene---or even report on what lies beyond their bases. At this point, UNMIS patrols are consistently being denied freedom of movement by both the SAF and SPLA. Heavily armed, Khartoum-backed Misseriya units continue marauding throughout much of Abyei."

("Obama Weak on the Rapidly Escalating Crisis in Abyei, "Dissent Magazine (on-line), March 9, 2011

All this has come to pass because the international community, and especially the U.S. as guided by special envoy Lyman, has refused to see Khartoum's ambitions for what they are, refused to assess on a realistic basis what would deter the regime from war-making that even in early March was clearly in the offing.

It has also come to pass despite the grim history of the genocidal jihad directed against the Nuba people during the 1990s, a history that should do much more to inform the thinking of special envoy Lyman, who casually declared in response to a question about whether the Nuba Mountains might become a "new Darfur":

"I don't think so for two reasons. One because the Nuba Mountain people are fighting back and I don’t think the North is capable of dislodging large numbers of people on an ethnic basis from the Nuba Mountains. That's the reality on the ground. Second, I'm not sure that's the objective of the government though local commanders may have a different point of view."

But of course the Nuba people "fought back" heroically in the 1990s; even so, hundreds of thousands died (mostly from starvation and disease) and hundreds of thousands were displaced from the irrich farmlands. History flatly contradicts Lyman's claim. And as to Lyman's surmise about the "objectives" of the Khartoum regime, this seems absurdly complacent, given the history of this regime. The evidence of ethnic targeting of Nuba civilians for execution and aerial attack is overwhelming.

Lyman would do well to read an account by Alex de Waal of the ghastly history of genocide in the Nuba Mountains in the 1990s ("Averting Genocide in the NubaMountains,"2006)

"The counterinsurgency fought by the Government of Sudan against the rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan during the early1990s was not only exceptionally violent, but also aimed at depopulating the area of civilians. Not only did the government aim to defeat the SPLA forces but they also intended a wholesale transformation of Nuba society in such a way that its prior identity was destroyed. The campaign was genocidal in intent and at one point, appeared to be on the brink of success...."

"The war was notable for attacks on civilian targets with forced displacement, rape and killing. The principal instruments of counterinsurgency included locally-recruited militia, the regular army and the air force, under the overall coordination of Military Intelligence...."

"The early period of the war was marked by militia massacres and extra-judicial executions by military intelligence. In a mixture of reprisals and counter-insurgency, some of it pre-emptive, a coalition of military officers and local militia commanders escalated violence against the Nuba. The first step was the arming of local Arab tribes by the government, initially as a panicked response to an SPLA attack in the region in 1985, and in 1989 they were formalized into the 'Popular Defence Forces.' The militias committed the worst massacres of the war, driven not only by orders from their paramilitary command, but also by their own search for cattle, loot and cheap labor...."

"Death squads targeted community leaders in rural areas, while intellectuals in the towns were rounded up by Military Intelligence and 'disappeared.' The rationale was explained by Khalid Abdel Karim al Husseini, formerly head of the security in the Office of the Governor of Kordofan (and younger brother of the governor), until he left Sudan and sought asylum in Europe in 1993. He said that the government was 'taking the intellectuals, taking the professionals, to ensure that the Nuba were so primitive that they couldn't speak for themselves.'"

All of this---all of it---is again evident in the conduct of counter-insurgency war: the extra-judicial executions; the targeting of intellectuals and indeed all Nuba; the arming of Arab militias and the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), the latter now entirely Arab; the depopulating of the Nuba Mountains; the campaign to deny food and humanitarian assistance. And as the Small Arms Survey makes clear in its report on arms in South Kordofan ("Armed Entities in South Kordofan," June 2011), the Khartoum-allied militia groups are extremely heavily armed and supplied---this in addition to the growing SAF military presence from Dilling to Kadugli.

Military developments could not be more ominous.


Below are two collections: one of my own recent writings on the grim military logic that is now playing out; a second that gathers especially important and very recent news reports on the situation in South Kordofan:

Recent analyses and publications (Reeves, May/June 2011):

•"In Sudan, Genocide Anew?" (We are, once again, on the verge of genocidal counterinsurgency in Sudan. History must not be allowed to repeat itself.) from The Washington Post, June 18, 2011 anew/2011/06/17/AGVhCVZH_story.html

•"Genocide in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan," from Dissent Magazine (on-line), June 22, 2011,

•"Abyei and South Kordofan: Why Our Diplomatic 'Successes' in Sudan Aren't," from The New Republic, June 30, 2011

•"International Crimes and Threats to Peace in Sudan are mounting rapidly," June 28, 2011,

•"Sudan: The Horror Continues---And the World Sits By," from The New Republic, June 24, 2011
•"Genocide in Sudan: Is it Happening Again?" from The New Republic, June 20, 2011

•"Obama's Second 'Rwanda Moment,'" The Sudan Tribune, June 14, 2011,39204

•"An Abyei Timeline: The Long Road to Khartoum's Military Invasion," May 27, 2011,

•"Khartoum Dramatically Escalates War in Sudan," June 9, 2011

•"Carter Center Fails to Consider Key Issues in the South Kordofan Gubernatorial Election," (political incompetence and misprision—and a failure to ask key questions—produce unwarranted ratification of NIF/NCP victory by indicted war criminal Ahmed Haroun), May 20, 2011,

[It is difficult to overstate the significance of this botched monitoring job by the Carter Center; we will never know how events would have preceded without this perversely encouraging "green light" to Khartoum.]

•"'They Bombed Everything that Moved': Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 - 2011,"(release of a comprehensive report and database, )

[With the relentless bombing of the Nuba Mountains, as well as other areas in South Kordofan, and Unity State in South Sudan, this twelve-year record of Khartoum's barbarism has considerable current relevance.]

Some very recent and revealing news stories from the region:

Jeffrey Gettleman, from the New York Times (dateline: Nuba Mountains):

Some truly extraordinary reporting.

Agence France-Presse, July 1, 2011(dateline: Washington, DC) quotes Princeton Lyman as saying, "We have every indication that [Beijing’s] message to President Bashir has been, 'Look, you've got to resolve the issues of the CPA,' Lyman said, referring to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which set the stage for southern independence.""Every indication"? And al-Bashir's vow today to finishing "cleansing the Nuba Mountains" is an "indication" of what?

In the Wall Street Journal (June 22), Julie Flint, a highly seasoned observer of the Nuba, notes with Mia Farrow: "The US special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, has said there is not yet evidence that the new Nuba war amounts to 'ethnic cleansing.' But confidential UN reports that we've seen speak of 'wide-scale exactions against unarmed civilians with specific targeting of African tribes, 'and of people targeted 'along racial/ethnic lines.'"

Associated Press reports that the "UN says Sudan's army continues attacking civilians" (July 1, 2011). In addition to the attacks on civilians, this story (dateline: Juba) reports that: "The UN says Sudan is denying it full access to tens of thousands of civilians near an area between north and south Sudan where violence continues less than 10days before Southern Sudan becomes the world's newest nation."(

Reuters reports (June 30, 2011; dateline: UN/New York)

"All UN agency offices were looted of their stocks and office equipment in Kadugli, with the exception of the UNICEF children's foundation and another agency, Haq said, citing information from the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)."(

BBC News Africa reports (June 23): "We are getting very strong reports that house-to-house executions are going on by internal security forces where summary executions are taking place based on ethnicity, political affiliation and even how black you are. These are civilians, intellectuals, teachers, community leaders, Muslims and Christians, and often they are killed by their throats being slit. This may be only the beginning and it could well continue for many months and intensify. There is a complete lack of access---we learnt that the only airstrip that was left had been bombed and we have heard the government of Sudan will shoot down UN flights operating in South Kordofan so humanitarian flights are no longer an option." (

Agence France Presse reports(June 20; dateline: UN/New York): "Sudanese forces have threatened to shoot down UN flights over South Kordofan state where its troops are hunting and killing southern Sudan followers, the US ambassador to the United Nations said Monday."

Amnesty International reports (June 24, London): Amnesty International speaks out about "indiscriminate attacks, bombing from high altitudes with imprecise bombs in areas which include civilians."

Associated Press reports (June 23) on actions taken by Khartoum on June 20:

"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 their forced removal on Monday. The report did not say how many refugees were forced to leave the camp."

And most ominously, Associated Press reports (June 29; dateline: Geneva) on the view of the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, just back from Sudan: "'If this renewed fighting in border areas doesn't stop and it further spreads to other areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, then obviously it's war again,' said Kyung-whaKang, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights."

And this is the great danger: that Khartoum will see the July 9 date for Southern independence as the moment to use military force to extract through negotiations or simply to seize by force disputed border lands, risking all-out war. (In addition to Abyei, 20 percent of the 2,100-kilometer North/South border is still neither delineated nor demarcated). The UN has reported on large troop build-ups by Khartoum's regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the region where northern South Kordofan and Blue Nile states converge with southern (and oil-rich) Upper Nile State. Khartoum has exhibited extremely provocative military actions along the border further west, including repeated bombings in Southern territory near Jau. Agok, where so many Ngok Dinka fled from Abyei, has been subject to artillery shelling, and the critical Banton Bridge (across the River Kiir) has been destroyed.

Renewed war now seems more likely than not.

July 1, 2011

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

Abyei and South Kordofan: Why Our Diplomatic 'Successes' in Sudan Aren't

By Eric Reeves

June 30, 2011 (SSNA) -- Two agreements about the dangerous crises in Sudan were signed in the past few days: one purporting to address the Abyei crisis, the other the massive ethnically targeted violence in South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. Cause for celebration? Hardly. There is a serious danger that these very modest diplomatic achievements, which resolve none of the fundamental issues, will simply buy Khartoum time to accomplish its goals in both regions.

The first agreement, a June 27 UN Security Council resolution, authorized an Ethiopian peacekeeping mission of 4,200 troops to patrol the disputed area of Abyei. This resolution grew out of the June 16 agreement between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM)---soon to become the leadership of the Republic of South Sudan when the country formally divides on July 9---and professed to address several issues surrounding control of Abyei. But the June 16 agreement is explicitly temporary; while Khartoum is obliged to remove its regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), the document is vague about the militias that have created so much havoc in Abyei. Even with the presence of the Ethiopian force that was finally authorized a few days ago, Khartoum will only withdraw from Abyei to those locations that had given the northern regime de facto military control months ago.

The agreement also does nothing to explain how the more than 110,000 displaced Ngok Dinka---the indigenous people of Abyei---will be able to return to their homes safely. This is one reason the failure to deal head-on with the issue of militias, largely constituted by the nomadic Misseriya people, is so important. Unsurprisingly, it seems that no journalist in the region has found any Ngok from Abyei who are prepared to return.

But the most critical limitation of the recent agreement is that the final status of Abyei is simply consigned to future negotiations---negotiations that will change fundamentally when the North and South formally separate. At that point, Salva Kiir, President of the Government of South Sudan, and one part of the three-person "Presidency" established by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to govern Sudan during the "interim" period, will lose his position, leaving only members of the Khartoum regime in the presidency and leaving Omar al-Bashir to make arrangements for Abyei's self-determination referendum. Essentially, this cedes control to al Bashir, who has already indicated his disregard for the Abyei Protocol set up by the CPA and the Abyei ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2009. Khartoum also insists on considering nomadic Misseriya Arabs as residents of Abyei for voting purposes. It is difficult to see how the future does not entail a permanent land-grab by Khartoum.

And what of the agreement signed on June 28 by representatives of both the North and the South calling for shared governance of the contested border areas? This is even less substantive than the authorization of the Ethiopian troops—little more than an agreement to continue negotiations. It speaks of an "agenda" comprising only vacuous phrases: "recognition of the diversity in Sudan," "rule of law," "human rights," "justice for all citizens of Sudan." One could forgive the perversely inflated rhetoric if there were some substance to the document. But it contains no agreement for cessation of hostilities, even as those hostilities continue in the most brutal fashion in South Kordofan. The document merely talks about the formation of a North-South Joint Security Committee to address "all relevant security issues." This will be little comfort to those Nuba residents of South Kordofan who are presently being rounded up in house-to-house searches and at military checkpoints and repeatedly assaulted by military aircraft.

Moreover, the agreement does nothing to facilitate humanitarian relief, which has been almost completely paralyzed by Khartoum’s military control of the airport in Kadugli, Kordofan's capital, and the intolerable security conditions for relief workers.

One of the signatures on the agreement gives particularly little confidence. In addition to the Northern and Southern representatives, the former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki (as head of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel) signed the agreement. The painful irony here is that the "Implementation" referred to in Mbeki's title is the implementation of the road map for peace in Darfur that he presented almost two years ago. The report and its recommendations went nowhere. Darfuris generally despised Mbeki for being too close to Khartoum; so the frustrated would-be Nelson Mandela moved on to Abyei, where he quickly earned the mistrust of the Ngok by again siding conspicuously with Khartoum.

To make matters worse, there seems to be a willful ignorance of the severity of the situation among those who should be most concerned. Princeton Lyman, the recently appointed U.S. special envoy for Sudan, gave a complacent interview to "PBS NewsHour" on Tuesday, doubting that South Kordofan could become the next Darfur---despite the great massing of armor and military equipment in Kadugli. To a question about crimes throughout South Kordofan, Lyman blithely replied: "Because we don't have a presence there, we haven't been able to investigate it fully. There are certainly reports of targeted killings. There are some reports from the other side [the SPLA] also. What we've asked for is a full [UN] investigation."

Leaving aside the detailed, photographic evidence of crimes in the Nuba Mountains, Lyman says nothing about the atrocities outside the Nuba Mountains, which have been reported in authoritative and compelling detail. On June 28, for example, the UN said it could not account for 7,000 Nuba who had been in the protective custody of UNMIS, the UN peacekeeping operation. These civilians were compelled by Khartoum’s military intelligence officers, disguised as Red Crescent humanitarian workers, to move this population to Kadugli Stadium. There has been no account of them since. Given Khartoum’s attitudes and behavior, Lyman’s idea of a UN investigation of human rights abuses in South Kordofan is preposterously improbable.

Nor does Lyman betray any awareness of the gravity of the humanitarian crisis that Khartoum has deliberately engineered. The United Nations World Food Program has confessed it does not know how to reach 400,000 Kordofani recipients formerly on its rosters. Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, former governor of South Kordofan, estimates that as many as 500,000 people have already been displaced. Khartoum relentlessly bombs the Kauda airstrip in Kordofan, preventing humanitarian transport into the region. The UN and humanitarian staff are largely paralyzed in Kadugli.

South Kordofan and the entire gamut of border issues need forceful, urgent, and demanding diplomacy. Khartoum must be put on notice that the consequences of continued ethnic destruction and denial of humanitarian access in South Kordofan will be severe. This said, Obama is unlikely to shift to a new special envoy, given Lyman's credentials and recent appointment, and the African Union is perfectly pleased with Mbeki and his serial failures. The chances of truly effective diplomacy, despite these recent agreements, seem dangerously small.

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

International Crimes and Threats to Peace in Sudan are Mounting Rapidly

By Eric Reeves

June 28, 2011 (SSNA) -- After so many years of work on Sudan, I thought myself fully braced for the worst the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime might do.  As so often before, I was wrong.  The litany of egregious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law over the past five weeks is simply overwhelming---in South Kordofan, in Abyei, but in other areas along the North/South border as well.  Just in the past two weeks, the regime's Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and militia allies in South Kordofan have: threatened to shoot down UN humanitarian aircraft in the region; shot, tortured, and arrested national members of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan; denied freedom of movement to UNMIS personnel in nearly all locations; deployed intelligence officers in Kadugli, disguised as Red Crescent workers, to compel the removal of displaced civilians who had taken refuge at the UNMIS headquarters in Kadugli; denied UN and nongovernmental relief organizations use of the Kadugli airport, thus creating a vast and growing humanitarian crisis; engaged in house-to-house searches for Nuba civilians, arresting or summarily executing all thought to have "southern sympathies"; and engaged in what Amnesty International has called  "indiscriminate attacks, bombing from high altitudes with imprecise bombs in areas which include civilians."  These bombing attacks have extended to territories in South Sudan.

The SAF has also, in violation of international law, laid anti-personnel land mines in areas around Kadugli to control movement in and out of the town, and Military Intelligence has set up numerous checkpoints that are used to arrest Nuba civilians and restrict UN movements.  Reports of mass graves and the use of chemical weapons against civilians are as yet unconfirmed, but continue to emerge with increasing insistence from those on the ground and in the region.  As a recent and compelling article by Dan Morrison in Foreign Policy reminds us, the use of chemical weapons was part of the genocide in the Nuba Mountains during the 1990s.  Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has also documented Khartoum’s use of chemical weapons against civilians in the South:

"The increase of the bombings on the civilian population and civilian targets in 1999 was accompanied by the use of cluster bombs and weapons containing chemical products. On 23 July 1999, the towns of Lainya and Loka (Yei County) were bombed with chemical products. At the time of this bombing, the usual subsequent results (i.e. shrapnel, destruction to the immediate environment, impact, etc.) did not take place. [Rather], the aftermath of this bombing resulted in a nauseating, thick cloud of smoke, and later symptoms such as children and adults vomiting blood and pregnant women having miscarriages were reported."

“These symptoms of the victims leave no doubt as to the nature of the weapons used. Two field staff of the World Food Program (WFP) who went back to Lainya, three days after the bombing, had to be evacuated on the 27th of July. They were suffering of nausea, vomiting, eye and skin burns, loss of balance and headaches ("Living under aerial bombardments: Report of an investigation in the Province of Equatoria, Southern Sudan," February 2000)

MSF rightly "deplored" the fact that no nation demanded an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons---not one government in the world community made the single request that could have set in motion an investigation.  This tells us all too much about the international response to current atrocity crimes in Sudan, committed by the same regime that has used chemical weapons in the Nuba and in South Sudan.

[See also my lengthy archive/report on bombing in South Sudan, Darfur, and South Kordofan over the past twelve years: ]

Elsewhere SAF attacks have been recorded in every state in the South that borders North Sudan.  It has repeatedly bombed the Jau area of Pariang County in Unity State, creating thousands of newly displaced civilians; it has fired artillery at the civilians and UN personnel in the town of Agok, to which so many fled following the May 20 invasion of Abyei; it has massed forces in the remote region where (northern) South Kordofan and White Nile State meet (southern) Upper Nile State (Upper Nile, with Unity, is the great oil production region in South Sudan); it has organized and supported potent militias that have as their sole objective destabilizing the South as much as possible before and after the July 9 independence of the Republic of South Sudan; it has attempted to move troops south of the River Kiir, which separates the forces of the SAF and Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA); it has shelled Banton Bridge, the major route from Abyei to Warrab State (and thus essential for any potential returns).  And on June 26 the regime allowed its Misseriya Arab militia allies to attack a train carrying people returning to their homeland in the South; the attack killed at least one and wounded four according to an UNMIS spokeswoman.  Such an attack could not have occurred unless countenanced by the SAF or Military Intelligence.

This list is not complete, but it is authoritative, based on numerous newswire dispatches, human rights reports, many scores of accounts from Nuba who have escaped to the South, and internal UN internal documents that have been reported by several news organizations.  And astonishingly, in the midst of a news blackout throughout South Kordofan and a shutdown of cellular phone service---with only very limited Internet access---there are many reports, even photographs that have made their way out of the Nuba Mountains and are compelling in their brutal details.  The credibility of a number of sources has been authoritatively confirmed.

But without a humanitarian presence, and without accounts from the now-paralyzed UNMIS, information about Khartoum's actions in South Kordofan will rapidly diminish, rendering a vast and accelerating humanitarian crisis invisible.  For now, the US and its allies, as well as all Security Council members who wish to know what is occurring, have access to more than enough intelligence to make informed assessments.

It is difficult to focus on a single atrocity crime amidst such massive violence and abuse, but I believe the most telling violation of international law was Khartoum’s use of security personnel in Kadugli, disguised as Red Crescent workers, to compel the movement of displaced civilians who had taken shelter within the UNMIS protective perimeter.  Some 7,000 Nuba civilians (estimates vary) gathered within the protective custody of the UN following Khartoum's initial military onslaught and ethnically targeted killings (June 5).  But Associated Press reports (June 23) on actions taken by Khartoum on June 20:

"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 their forced removal on Monday. The report did not say how many refugees were forced to leave the camp. "

These actions violate international humanitarian law on so many counts it requires an analysis unto itself.  But the brutal cynicism that pervades the intelligence and security services in Khartoum, the contempt for the lives of African Sudanese civilians, and the utter disregard for the UN---which learned only indirectly where these people had been taken---seem astounding, though not so astounding, evidently, as to generate a meaningful response.  Despite this public report there was no direct response from any international actor of consequence, including the UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos.  Small wonder that Khartoum believes it may do what it wants with impunity.

And this leaves us to draw the most ominous conclusions about the fate of the hundreds (or thousands) who were led to Kadugli Stadium: their has not been reported because UNMIS is now completely restricted in movement.  Only on June 28 (eight days later) did the UN make its concerns---and its ignorance---known:

"The United Nations has voiced concern at the fate of 7,000 Sudanese civilians last seen being forced by authorities to leave the protection of a UN compound in the tense border region between the North and South. A UN spokeswoman says the global body has asked north Sudan authorities for access to the civilians who are believed to have been taken to the nearby town of Kadugli in South Kordofan province last week. Spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that so far authorities have denied the request." (Associated Press, June 28; emphasis added)

Indeed, the SAF has over the past two weeks made clear its intention to end freedom of movement for UNMIS, despite the guarantees of the "Status of Forces Agreement" Khartoum signed in 2005. UNMIS patrols have been told by SAF officers that their mission is over, and only SAF-supervised administrative movements may take place. To make sure that UNMIS got this message, another utterly shocking episode is reported by The New York Times (June 21):

"Sudan's forces detained four United Nations peacekeepers and subjected them to 'a mock firing squad,' the organization said Monday [June 20, 2011], calling the intimidation part of a strategy to make it nearly impossible for aid agencies and monitors to work in the region."

And in its strategy Khartoum has almost completely succeeded.  The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate rapidly; hundreds of thousands are now cut off from relief aid; and the total displaced population may be greater than 400,000.  But again no international voice was raised to report this extraordinary detention, thereby encouraging further intimidation of UNMIS by SAF and security officers, even as military observation is critical: SAF continues to pour large quantities of weapons, armor, ammunition, and troops into Kadugli and Dilling; military checkpoints continue to target Nuba civilians; atrocities of the most brutal sort continue to be reported in and around Kadugli; and aerial attacks on the Nuba Mountains are unrelenting. Just two days ago sixteen people, including eight women and children, were killed during a bombing attack on three Nuba villages near Kurchi.

Nor is UNMIS encouraged to be vigorous in challenging Khartoum's restrictions on their guaranteed freedom of movement.  In fact, the UN peacekeepers are deliberately being threatened with military assault: SAF artillery and aircraft have attacked extremely close to UNMIS bases in several locations.  On June 17 the SAF launched an intensive artillery attack on the town of Agok, where so many of the more than 110,000 refugees from Abyei have fled; some shells fell as close as 200 meters from the UN compound.  Again on June 17, SAF attack aircraft bombed near Kadugli, with some bombs coming less that a kilometer away from UN headquarters.  The same was true on June 14, when SAF bombing runs came extremely close to the UN compound in Kauda.  Photographs of the attack, which targeted the airstrip critical for humanitarian transport, show just how close this attack came.  One purpose of these attacks so near to UN personnel is clear: intimidation.  For sooner or later, as the UN well knows, one of the bombs or shells will land on a compound.  The SAF is simply incapable of targeting with sufficient precision so close to UN sites.  In short, the goal is to force withdrawal.

For Khartoum's largest ambition is to control the civilian populations in South Kordofan and Abyei without the interference of either UNMIS or a humanitarian presence.  The Ethiopian brigade to be deployed to Abyei was authorized by the UN Security Council only on June 27; and despite its robust protection mandate, there are grave doubts about its ability to reverse the ethnic clearances that have already occurred or to create sufficient security for the Ngok Dinka who fled the region to be able to return to their lands and homes. Troublingly, the mission has no human rights mandate, as is typical for UN peacekeeping missions---a clear concession to Khartoum (and Beijing).  UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang, who has recently returned from Abyei, declared in Khartoum that there "was 'utter devastation' in the territory and called for a thorough human rights investigation both there and in South Kordofan."  In South Kordofan, Amnesty International rightly finds that civilians are being "coerced to return by the Sudanese authorities to places where their lives and safety could be at risk."  But all evidence suggests that the appropriate phrase is not "could be at risk" but "face the clear and imminent threat of ethnically targeted destruction, much of which is already in evidence."

Terrifying accounts have come from relief workers, a few necessarily anonymous diplomatic sources, and of course the Nuba people themselves: "Yusef" from Kadugli told Agence France-Presse that he had been informed by a member of the notorious Popular Defense Forces (PDF) 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." Nuba are being executed in gruesome ways at the hands of the SAF and militia groups, often by having their throats slit. A church source reports that Nuba are being hunted "like animals" by helicopter gunships.  These African peoples, trapped by geography in North Sudan, are haunted by their terrible history and are right to be fearful. As one aid worker has predicted, "if the ground offensive commences, 'absolute carnage'… could ensue."  This ground offensive could come at any time.

There can be no plea of ignorance about the nature of realities on the ground, such as Obama's special envoy Princeton Lyman has attempted to make.  Indeed, an American government official told the New York Times last week that, "This is going to spread like wildfire," adding that, without mediation, "you're going to have massive destruction and death in central Sudan, and no one seems able to do anything about it." "No one seems able to do anything about it"?  Able? … or willing?

To be sure, the emphasis by the Obama administration has been on its "inability"; and in any event, a negotiated solution is certainly the only long-term answer to the present crisis and the viability of Nuba life.  News from Addis Ababa today (June 28) indicates a “framework agreement” will be signed, preparing the way for negotiations between Khartoum and Juba on the future of South Kordofan and southern Blue Nile.  But there is good reason to believe that this decision by Khartoum is just for diplomatic appearances, and will change nothing on the ground.  Thabo Mbeki, who announced the "agreement," has a well-deserved reputation for overselling his diplomatic achievements.

And if the agreement fails---as all the regime's agreements with Sudanese parties in the past have failed (think Abyei, for example)---does anyone really doubt that there is a good deal more economic leverage to be wielded in compelling Khartoum to halt its military actions and obstruction of humanitarian relief, especially if the Obama administration convinces our European allies join the effort?  The Northern economy is in desperate shape, and the NIF/NCP regime extremely vulnerable in what will be a very difficult economic future.

There is also military leverage.

A No Fly Zone has been called for by many, including many Nuba, as Khartoum's military aircraft continue to pound away at civilian and humanitarian targets. The Enough Project has called for deployment to South Sudan of an unspecified "medium-range surface-to-air missile system." But as I have argued previously, a NFZ is completely impracticable without the devotion of inordinate resources.  A missile battery in South Sudan might eventually be of use, but not for the Nuba Mountains now.  The third generation of Patriot Missile, for example, is an amazing military engineering achievement; but its range is only about ten miles, and its radar extends only about 60 miles.  These distances are completely inadequate for coverage of South Kordofan from South Sudan.

But with real political will, the Obama administration could threaten to destroy on the ground those military aircraft implicated in attacks on civilians or humanitarians (a dwindling population).  This would minimize the chances for casualties and collateral damage.  But the administration could not merely threaten: it must be prepared to follow up, starting with the destruction of the most expensive and terrifying weapon in Khartoum’s air force, its MiG-29s (there are about 20, each costing roughly $30 million for complete outfitting and maintenance).  Such destruction would create a de facto NFZ.  As it is, these supersonic aircraft are continually upon the people of the Nuba before they can be heard, dropping their ordnance and screaming away with a sound that is utterly terrifying.  The demands that should be made of Khartoum are clear: halt these aerial attacks on civilians, allow humanitarian access---or watch your air force be destroyed seriatim by cruise missiles or drone attack planes.

An overextended and war-weary America might persuade Obama that the politics of this military effort are too costly.  This seems the overwhelmingly likely decision, given comments by Secretary of State Clinton and Obama's special envoy Lyman.  If so, Obama needs to be prepared to live with voices such as that of Andudu Adam el Nail, the Episcopal bishop of Kadugli and the Nuba Mountains: "Once again we are facing the nightmare of genocide of our people in a final attempt to erase our culture and society from the face of the earth."  Given the genocidal jihad of the 1990s, this nightmare seems all too real.  A correspondent for Time reported last week an interview with a relief worker who had escaped to Juba, South Sudan: "You can see it in all their eyes. They are scared. They see this as a fight for survival."  Is President Obama really prepared to see the Nuba people lose this fight?

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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