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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.

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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.”

Is U.S. Without Leverage in Confronting Khartoum Over Atrocity Crimes?

The Obama administration would have us believe, in the words of special presidential envoy Princeton Lyman, that we can do nothing but "encourage talks" between the increasingly militarized Khartoum regime and its countrywide adversaries. Privately, Lyman says the U.S. has no leverage, "no cards to play," no effective way of pressuring Khartoum. Is this true?

By Eric Reeves

November 7, 2011 (SSNA) -- In speaking about the ongoing human suffering and destruction in Sudan, Princeton Lyman, the Obama administration's Sudan policy spokesman, declared in a September interview with Radio Dabanga that the U.S. can do no more than "encourage and facilitate ... negotiations" between the parties in Sudan. Privately, Lyman makes explicit what is already implicit in this public declaration, insisting that U.S. has no leverage, no cards to play, no way to apply pressure on Khartoum. Is this true? Is the Obama administration really claiming that we are helpless as humanitarian access is resolutely denied to many hundreds of thousands of newly displaced civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile? These people have consumed all reserve foodstocks and have had their agricultural season profoundly disrupted by Khartoum's military violence; violence that includes indiscriminate aerial bombardment of villages and fields. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has concluded that the harvest in Blue Nile will fail (see below); the same is almost certainly true of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan.

And yet, without vigorous condemnation or facing any specified consequences, the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime continues to deny all international humanitarian access, despite the vast scale of the crisis. The U.S. has done nothing to secure international support for the creation of humanitarian corridors into these border regions. Nor has the U.S. moved with any evident determination to halt Khartoum's ongoing bombing of civilians and civilian targets, including agriculture. While offering tepid and sometime disingenuous condemnations of Khartoum's actions, Lyman continues to profess that the U.S. has no option but to "encouraging negotiations."

Here we should note that the "negotiations" Lyman speaks of necessarily involve a regime in Khartoum that has a long history of reneging on signed agreements, including multiple agreements regarding humanitarian access over the past twenty-two years; in the current crises the regime has simply---repeatedly and categorically---denied all international humanitarian access. Other agreements abrogated by Khartoum include various key terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the South (CPA). This is most conspicuously so in Abyei, where the regime's Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) refuse to withdraw, as Khartoum had perviously committed to doing, and thus continue to obstruct the return of some 120,000 Dinka Ngok who fled the SAF invasion of May 20. The only agreement the regime has signed of late---the June 28 framework agreement between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North---was renounced three days later by President Omar al-Bashir. This agreement committed both Khartoum and the SPLM/A-N 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. It was signed on the regime's behalf by long-time senior official and presidential advisor, Nafi'e Ali Nafi'e.

But in a clear signal of changes in the power dynamic within the regime, al-Bashir completely renounced the agreement three days later, and re-committed to a brutal military campaign:

"Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said the army would continue its campaign in the flashpoint of South Kordofan, state news agency SUNA said on Friday [July 1], 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." (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], July 1, 2011)

There is increasingly broad consensus among Sudan analysts that senior generals in the army, three of them senior Ministers, have increasingly taken control of political power and decision-making in Khartoum. As the International Crisis Group argues:

"The loss of South Sudan has had a profound effect on the National Congress Party, and senior generals led a soft-coup within the party. They have outflanked more pragmatic elements in the NCP who seek a negotiated strategy. Encouraging progress in the post-separation arrangements between North and South was blocked [by these generals and their political allies]." (emphasis added) ("Conflict Risk Alert," September 26, 2011)

What we are seeing, I have argued, is a "creeping military coup," and beginning with the seizure of Abyei in May, the generals seem determined to settle all issues militarily in the new "south Sudan"; this is the name increasingly used for the border regions whose people have long felt closer to what is now the independent South Sudan---politically, militarily, culturally, and ethnically. The generals have directed the NIF/NCP to spurn all negotiations with the SPLA/M-North, and most insistently to deny the presence of any international third party in negotiations with South Sudan, using various civilian spokesmen to make the point, including President (and Army Field Marshal) al-Bashir:

"In his Thursday [October 13] address, Al-Bashir maintained his tough stance towards the Sudan People's Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), which is fighting the country's army in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. 'There will be no negotiation with the SPLM-N because it was the one that started the war' he said, adding that ending the state of war in the two states is contingent on the SPLM-N's acceptance of the elections results in South Kordofan and surrendering its arms to the Sudanese army. 'There are no more negotiations or protocols, this is our position,' Al-Bashir declared." (Sudan Tribune, October 13, 2011)

It was, of course, Khartoum that initiated hostilities in both South Kordofan and Blue Nile, following its well-planned military invasion and seizure of the contested Abyei region. Two weeks earlier al-Bashir had made the same point with respect to outstanding issues with Juba, including Abyei, oil revenue-sharing, rights for Southerners who have remained in northern Sudan, as well as border delineation and demarcation:

"Sudan wants to end all conflict with newly-independent South Sudan through dialogue but without any foreign mediation, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Saturday [October 1, 2011] ahead of a visit by his southern counterpart. 'We need to sort out all issues through dialogue but without any foreign mediation,' Bashir said." ("Sudan's Bashir rejects mediation in talks with South"; Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], October 1, 2011)

Agence France-Presse had reported on September 28 from Khartoum:

"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."

"Sudan will not repeat the experience of being obliged to negotiate and sign protocols under UN supervision"---the rejection of a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile could hardly be clearer, even as the consequences of such conflict have been devastating for civilians, particularly since Khartoum has---it must be emphasized yet again---resolutely denied all humanitarian access to these highly distressed regions.

This rejection clearly extends to the UN, to Thabo Mbeki, representing the "African Union High-Level Panel" (originally commissioned to address the crisis in Darfur, a mission abandoned after a miserably unsuccessful effort), to regional actors (e.g., Ethiopia, which has provided the troops for the UN peacekeeping mission in Abyei)---and most clearly, to the U.S. and its special envoy, Princeton Lyman. For the U.S. special envoy to ignore the new political and negotiating environment in Khartoum, to continue to mouth platitudes about the value of diplomacy and the limitations of U.S negotiating leverage, is not only deeply disingenuous in the present context, but ignores options for securing humanitarian access for the hundreds of thousands of civilians who are so deeply imperiled.

Rather than profess limitations, Lyman and the U.S., as well as the rest of the international community, need to ask what can be done---now---to compel changes in Khartoum's policies and negotiating posture. Above all, they need to address with appropriate urgency a question that has grown excruciating exigent over four months now: How long are the U.S. and the international community prepared simply to watch as Khartoum denies all humanitarian access to Blue Nile and South Kordofan? How long will the abrogation of the terms of the Abyei interim agreement be allowed to be so flagrantly flouted (the SAF remains in full military control, and prevents nearly all returns by displaced Dinka Ngok)? How long will the condemnation of daily aerial bombing attacks on civilians and humanitarian targets be perfunctory in nature, even as these attacks have done so much to create the vast displacement that has left this year's harvests in ruins? And will Darfur continue to be a mere parenthesis in U.S. and international response to Sudan's multiple crises?

These are urgent questions, and it is deeply dismaying that Lyman and the Obama administration will say only that they can do nothing but "encourage negotiations" in which Khartoum quite explicitly refuses to participate---that the U.S. has no "cards to play," no means of pressuring the regime and its newly powerful generals. What this really reflects is an expedient cynicism, not a poverty of options.

Let's look at several possibilities:

[1] Shut down all talk of debt relief for Khartoum:

It would be difficult to overstate how distressed the economy of northern Sudan is at present. Inflation is over 20 percent; foreign exchange reserves are in extremely short supply; the regime is removing subsidies for sugar and petrol, and has already deeply angered many Sudanese in and near the capital; although the regime has produced "balanced" budget proposals, they make no serious attempt to account for the loss of oil revenues, even as the regime is publicly shameless in declaring what it has endured in the way of lost revenues; the IMF predicts negative growth in the northern economy this year and next, and arguably much longer; the Sudanese pound has experienced massive devaluation this year, and remains in freefall; the demographic of the "Arab Spring"---young, unemployed people under 30 who are frustrated by the lack of job opportunities---is clearly in evidence in what are so far relatively small, but more frequent and more robust demonstrations against economic mismanagement by this corrupt and brutally tyrannical regime.

Perhaps most tellingly, the regime continues to devote inordinate amounts of the national economy to military procurement and salaries. Along with the extensive funding of the intelligence services, these expenses altogether are likely over 50 percent of the total national budget. For in addition to the well-paid and well-equipped National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), the regime is prosecuting expensive wars in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan---and it maintains a significant military presence in Abyei. In Blue Nile, Yasir Arman of the SPLM-N has indicated that the Movement is in possession of evidence that Khartoum is supplementing its forces with Arab mercenaries from Niger and other countries to Sudan's west (the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the UN/African Union force in Darfur (UNAMID) will not commit to monitoring the transport of these militia fighters). All this represents another very large line item in the budget, as do purchases of extravagantly costly advanced weapons systems.

But what makes the economic situation in the North completely untenable is $38 billion in external debt, which the regime cannot service, let alone repay. The economic future of the North will not improve without debt relief, and here is where the U.S. can make its voice heard in Khartoum. President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should declare publicly, emphatically, and in a stand-alone announcement, that:

"The United States will do all within its political and diplomatic power to ensure that all progress on debt relief for the Republic of Sudan is halted until the following actions are seriously and credibly undertaken:

[a] Immediately open humanitarian corridors to the hundreds of thousands of civilians in Blue Nile and South Kordofan in desperate need of food, primary medical care, shelter, and clean water;

[b] Immediately begin negotiations, under international auspices, with the SPLM-North to bring about an end to hostilities in the regions;

[c] Commit to a political settlement of economic grievances, the future of the SPLA-North military forces, and role of the SPLM-North in the politics of northern Sudan;

[d] Commit to provide reparations for those who have lost land, possessions, and family in the violence of the past five months."

"If these conditions are not met, the U.S. will use all its power within the Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) to halt all discussion of debt relief. The U.S. will be equally vigorous in opposing all discussion of debt relief in Paris Club meetings."

President Obama or Secretary Clinton could utter these words today, and they would be heard in Khartoum with sufficient concern that real pressure would be felt, including by the generals.

Some will argue that this threat is already in place, but that's not the message Khartoum is getting. Most recently Germany is reported by the Sudan Tribune to have sent encouraging signals (October 18, 2011):

"Germany has been engaged in talks with Sudan regarding debt relief, Berlin's deputy envoy to Khartoum revealed, saying that these communications are expected to yield results by early 2010. The Sudanese privately-owned daily Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Tuesday [October 18] that Johannes Lehne, deputy head of Germany's diplomatic mission in Khartoum, said his country had been discussing with the Sudanese government ways of writing off its debt. Lehne said that Germany had offered Sudan to pay its debts in the form of development projects rather than paying them in cash to his country. 'Sudan actually sent proposals [on development projects] that we are currently considering. Procedures to write off [Sudan's debt] on the basis of these proposals will begin early next year,' the German diplomat was quoted [as saying]."

This is outrageously bad timing by the Germans, and gives the regime the sense that despite "difficulties" along the north/south border---and in Darfur---Europe believes it is better to deal with the regime in "positive" terms. This is a reprise of the ghastly foolishness of former U.S. envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, who notoriously declared that he planned to offer the regime "cookies," "gold stars," and "smiley faces" as a means of spurring diplomatic progress on Darfur---this even as genocide proceeded by a grim attrition on the ground throughout the region.

Whether multilaterally or unilaterally, the U.S. has more than enough power within international financial institutions to halt completely further discussion of any broad form of debt relief. For its part, the regime clearly hopes that debt relief will be on the agenda of a conference slated for Istanbul this December 1 - 2 (sponsored by Turkey and Norway); the U.S. representative should use the occasion to reiterate the firm opposition of the U.S. to any form of debt relief for the regime.

What makes Khartoum's pleas for debt relief particularly outrageous are the shameless claims that the international community is somehow obliged to help the regime-governed economy, even as the regime's military ambitions are costing the international community many billions of dollars for current UN peacekeeping missions (which face worldwide budgetary squeezes), and regime violence over the past twenty-two years has created the need for more than fifteen billion dollars in humanitarian relief:

"The Sudanese economy faces collapse unless the international community steps in to provide assistance in the area of debt relief, [Khartoum's] foreign minister Ali Karti said on Thursday [September 29]. 'We are working also on debt relief with France and others, because debt servicing incurs more than $1 billion annually,' Karti told reporters in Paris following a meeting with his French counterpart Alain Juppe. He said that the world could not simply stand back and watch the economy collapse, describing the economy’s woes as 'really serious.' Karti's grim economic warning marks a departure from his peers in the government who sought to downplay the magnitude of Sudan's troubled finances." (Sudan Tribune, September 30, 2011)

Of course what is "really serious" is the fate of the people of Abyei, Darfur, Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and the hundreds of thousands of refugees that Khartoum's wars on civilians have created. Given the evident French reception of Ali Karti, a U.S. announcement on halting further discussion of debt relief becomes all the more important. Here we should recall that even as some of the worst human rights abuses in the world have been committed in Sudan over the past two decades under the NIF/NCP, German and French companies have been eager participants in commercial projects funded by the regime's oil wealth, most coming from oil extracted at great human cost in South Sudan. It would be useful to know precisely what these two European powerhouse nations hold in the way of Sudanese debt.

Even were the proposed U.S. conditions met, there should be further pressure on the regime to engage in fundamental economic reform, particularly in appropriations for the military and security sectors. The IMF has done a spectacularly poor job of reporting on such expenditures over the past decade and more, and this has created an almost total lack of transparency, preventing any clear understanding of the real military and security budget, as opposed to the one made public and available to the IMF. Any future debt relief should carefully monitor military expenditures, and ensure that they do not exceed what is necessary for self-defense.

De-militarizing the regime will be extremely difficult in its present configuration, and regime change has long been the only real means of reforming northern Sudanese political culture. The NIF/NCP, however, will not go quietly.

Other measures by which the U.S. can change Khartoum's thinking:

[2] Declare that the actions by the SAF and its militia allies in Blue Nile and South Kordofan are acts of terrorism, and that the clock won't start ticking for removal from the State Department list of terrorism-sponsoring nations until these actions are halted (it is a statutory requirement for such removal that the State Department certify that no acts of terrorism have been committed or supported by a regime on the list for the six prior months). All aerial bombardment of civilians, including in Darfur, should also be considered acts of terrorism for the purposes of potential removal from the State Department list.

[3] Make public U.S. satellite reconnaissance showing military actions against civilians: using appropriate satellite resources, the U.S. should publicize the scale and nature of Khartoum's military ambitions and their consequences for civilians. Unlike the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), the U.S. intelligence community has no limit on resolution (pixels per square centimeter) in its photographs, or weather constraints on its surveillance capabilities. So far, however, the Obama administration has been inert in responding to or augmenting the critical findings of SSP. If even some of the prodigious power of U.S intelligence were dedicated to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the heretofore unique work of SSP could be quickly and effectively supplemented.

[4] Move to convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to press for humanitarian corridors into Blue Nile and South Kordofan: these are essential for the survival of hundreds of thousands of civilians. The U.S. should declare further that the denial of humanitarian access by Khartoum is a clear threat to "international peace and security," thus coming within the ambit of the most important mandate of the Security Council. The U.S. and other Council members should introduce a resolution authorizing, under Chapter 7 auspices, the creation of such corridors "by all means necessary." The U.S. should be prepared to assist in the protection of such corridors, in coordination with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The present UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) should deploy substantial forces to the border regions between South Sudan and Blue Nile, and be prepared to escort the tens of thousands of refugees who have now fled from the Nuba Mountains; these people will continue to flee as the dry season begins and Khartoum ramps up military ground actions. Sections of Unity State bordering South Kordofan are particularly at risk.

China is of course very likely to veto such a resolution, but it is important that it be made to do so, and thereby reveal to the world---and especially to the countries of Africa---just how cynical Beijing is when it comes to the people of Africa, as opposed to the continent's extractable resources. The U.S. should continue to introduce such a resolution so long as the vast and growing humanitarian crises persist in these border regions. To date, the U.S. has introduced at the Security Council no resolution of consequence concerning either Blue Nile or South Kordofan.

[5] Accelerate defensive arms deliveries to South Sudan, particularly anti-aircraft weaponry, as well as surveillance and communications equipment. The UN has recently declared that refugees from South Kordofan are at risk of aerial bombardment even when they reach South Sudan (see below). At the same time, the U.S. should share with the Government of South Sudan satellite reconnaissance intelligence bearing on the location, size, and armaments of the Khartoum-sponsored rebel groups that continue to ravage the South, especially in Unity and Jonglei states. That Khartoum is supporting these groups has long been evident, and recent analyses by the Small Arms Survey---of weapons captured from these groups by Southern military forces (the SPLA)---make clear that this brand-new, Chinese-manufactured weaponry could only have come from Khartoum in the quantities seized.

In fact, many months ago a helicopter from Khartoum, carrying senior officers loyal to rebel leader George Athor, was seized by the SPLA when it accidentally landed in the wrong location, and much incriminating evidence was found aboard. Nor is it an accident that these rebel leaders are often found in Khartoum, or in bases just across the border in northern Sudan. More recently the senior intelligence officer in the SPLA declared the South had "credible evidence" that Khartoum's "Sudan Airways" is providing "logistical and financial support to the various militia rebels" in South Sudan (Sudan Tribune, November 1, 2011).

[6] Use military force to deter the bombing of civilians: There has been for months a plea from military and political leaders in Blue Nile and South Kordofan---and most urgently from civilians---for the imposition of a "No-Fly Zone." This has typically entailed no clear understanding of what is required for such an operation, and officials in the Obama administration have been eager to assert that it is completely impracticable, given the locations to be protected. But what the people of Blue Nile and South Kordofan want is not a particular military operation. Rather, what they desperately wish for is an end to the daily assaults by Antonov "bombers," retrofitted Russian cargo planes that drop their typically crude, shrapnel-laden barrel bombs out the rear cargo bays---at high altitudes and without benefit of bomb-sighting devises. These planes are far too inaccurate for real military purposes; they are designed to hit large, "soft" targets such as villages, hospitals, water supplies, cattle, and fields. These they can hit, and thus they are terrifyingly effective in compelling civilian movement and displacement. These deliberate, widespread, and completely indiscriminate attacks are all war crimes---and in aggregate they constitute "crimes against humanity."

From Blue Nile, the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (October 12, 2011) provides a grim account of what happens when civilians are targeted. Dr. Evan Atar, highlighted in the report below, is one of those in Blue Nile calling for concerted international pressure on Khartoum to end the bombing:

"Kurmuk hospital in Sudan's southern crisis-hit Blue Nile State is struggling to cope with an influx of war wounded, according to hospital doctor Evan Atar. So far he has treated 626 people for shrapnel injuries since clashes began last month .... A man on the operating table cries out in pain, but Atar says the hospital has no more anaesthetics to give him. Cotton, gauze and saline solution will run out this week if aid does not arrive, he says, adding that six months of supplies have been used up in the past six weeks. 'The problem is that there is no way we can get the drugs in here now because of the Antonovs bombing the area, making it very dangerous to fly supplies in from Kenya.' Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir will not allow foreign aid agencies inside Blue Nile or the neighbouring state of South Kordofan ... Atar is the only doctor in Kurmuk, which has the only hospital between state capital Damazin and neighbouring Ethiopia." [Kurmuk fell to the SAF on November 3]

In response to such barbarous attacks, the U.S., and whatever allies will join in the effort, should make clear to Khartoum that every time an Antonov---or any other military aircraft---attacks civilians or humanitarians, the U.S. will destroy one such aircraft on the ground at el-Obeid (the major air base from which Antonov and other military aircraft have attacked Blue Nile and South Kordofan). It is doubtful that the generals in Khartoum would watch for long as their air force was destroyed, seriatim, before them; aerial military attacks on civilians would almost certainly stop.

This is not an "Iraq-style NFZ"; on the contrary, there would be no patrolling by fuel-consumptive combat aircraft, no need for refueling aircraft or AWACS, no need to secure over-flight permission from Sudan's nervous or ambivalent neighbors---the decision to act would be on the basis of a confirmed attack, and there are many means of such confirmation, including satellite reconnaissance follow-up on the reports of daily bombing attacks:

[There are many news reports and accounts from the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile that speak of "daily" or "near daily" attacks; a few examples, with datelines from within Sudan, include the New York Times, Inter Press Service, UN Integrated Region Information Networks, as well as the leaked UN human rights report on events during the initial fighting in June.]

Destroying aircraft on the ground---for example, with cruise missiles---would minimize the possibility of collateral damage; and relentless, sequential destruction would steadily ratchet up the pressure on Khartoum to halt these war crimes. To be sure, this would, as Lyman has said baldly in explaining why he is opposed to any such action, "take us into a confrontational situation in Sudan." But military "confrontation" is path that Khartoum has chosen, and from which it appears determined not to deviate, even as many hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk; and while it sounds diplomatic for Lyman to say further that "our efforts are concentrated in getting the parties back to the negotiation table," one of these parties has made clear it has no intention of negotiating, and certainly not with U.S. auspices (see above).

Notably, the regime recently turned down an invitation to join a broad discussion in Washington, organized by Lyman and his office, to discuss Darfur, where the failed peace agreement promulgated in Doha (Qatar) this past July all too clearly leaves much work to be done. Khartoum for its part is determined to do nothing that might give the appearance of re-opening negotiations, and refuses to make even an appearance.

Indeed, on Darfur al-Bashir recently made clear his robust views of UN Security Council Resolution (2003), which authorizes for another year the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, and which in Khartoum's view sought to extend incrementally the mandate of the mission:

"Sudan's president Omer Al-Bashir has bragged about his country's ability to emulate Israel in breaking resolutions of the UN Security Council (UNSC), vowing to expel those who attempt to implement the latest UNSC's resolutions on Darfur's peacekeeping mission. Al-Bashir, who was addressing a conference of the youth sector of his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) on Thursday [October 13], said that Sudan had successfully defied the UNSC's Resolution 2003 to amend the mandate of the UN-AU Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) as well as Resolution 1706 to expand the mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to include deployment in Darfur. 'They can shove the new resolutions' Al-Bashir said, reiterating his threats to expel whoever is tempted to implement the Resolution 2003." (emphasis added) (Sudan Tribune, October 13, 2011)

Most recently (November 4, 2011) Khartoum rejected out of hand a U.S. proposal for ending conflict in South Kordofan. This is not, as Lyman implies, the attitude of a regime that can be coaxed back to the negotiating table; it is the attitude of an almost fully militarized security cabal in Khartoum, and to ignore this reality is both disingenuous and cynical.

How urgent are the humanitarian crises in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur?

Ominously, it must be said first that we don't really know: Khartoum's refusal to grant access to humanitarians of course extends to journalists and human right monitors (this despite weak pleas for an "independent and credible international investigation" of atrocity crimes from Lyman, U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and various UN officials). But the evidence at hand---from refugees in Ethiopia and South Sudan, from intrepid journalists who've made their way into both Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and from the reports of Sudanese themselves, by means of a range of communications and intermediaries---is overwhelming. And this evidence aggregated, seen in light of conditions prior to the outbreak of fighting (e.g., dwindling food reserves), makes abundantly clear that many people are either now dying from malnutrition and disease, or soon will be. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) "235,000 people [are] on the brink of starvation in Sudan's embattled southern border region because of fighting in Blue Nile and South Kordofan" (October 10, 2011). But this is not so much because of fighting per se as it is because Khartoum's aerial violence relentlessly targets civilians; and this in turn has created such a staggering figure for people in acute distress. Violence now deeply threatens the agricultural season and the (already compromised) harvest in both regions.

Agriculture

The effects of continual aerial bombardment are likely to be the major military instrument of death, having so profoundly disrupted the agricultural cycles in both South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Agence France-Presse reports:

"The fighting has disrupted the major crop season in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan---two of Sudan's main sorghum producing areas, according to the Rome-based agency. In South Kordofan, people fled at the start of the planting season and were unable to sow seeds, while in Blue Nile, fighting erupted later in the season so seeds were planted but people were forced to abandon their crops. 'The latest fighting coupled with erratic rainfall means next month’s harvest is expected to generally fail,' it stated. The shortage of food stocks has already led to a doubling of prices, which are expected to continue to rise steeply. The agency also pointed out that seasonal livestock migration has been disrupted in both states causing large herds to be concentrated in small areas along the border. 'This is causing overcrowding and could lead to outbreaks of livestock disease,' said Cristina Amaral, Chief of FAO's Emergency Operations Service. 'Tensions between farmers and nomadic herders over water and land access may also be exacerbated.' All international aid agencies have been barred from Blue Nile .... " (emphasis added) (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Kurmuk], October 10, 2011)

The UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks reports from Kurmuk (October 17, 2011):

"Khidir Abusita, the chief of Maiyas village, in Sudan's crisis-hit Blue Nile state, points to a bomb and the shrapnel that ripped through two 'tukuls' (conical mud and thatch huts) on 2 October. That day, the Sudan Armed Forces' Antonov bomber planes literally broke apart two families and left the village terrorized by their almost daily appearance. Abusita spoke to IRIN about the damage caused to his village: 'The Antonov came here at around midday [on 2 October]; it bombed the place, killing six people, including one child. Among the people who died were two pregnant women.'"

The extended narrative continues:

"'In one of the affected families, three people died and three are remaining, so we took these three behind the mountain to hide. In this other family, two died and three are remaining. Another man who was just passing by to visit his neighbours was killed too. They were just farmers. His leg was cut and we tried to take him to hospital but he died. The other injured man is lying at Kurmuk hospital after the [bomb] cut his feet and stomach. Yesterday [1 October] there were two Antonovs around the area. They just circled overhead for one hour, so we are very scared.'"

"'Most of the people have stayed here, but behind the mountains. We sleep near the river during the day and come back to the village at night. We just eat from these small, small farms; we just [grow food] near our houses because this year we haven't been able to go to our farms in the valley to cultivate. Few bits of food remain, mostly only sorghum. We don't have sugar, we don't have tea, we don't have coffee. Also there is no medicine, people are just depending on the traditional medicine.'"

On the basis of such reports and what has been observed of the crops, and the time prior to harvesting, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicted in October that "next month's harvest is expected to generally fail." And yet the NIF/NCP regime denies access to the UN's World Food Program, as well as all other UN agencies and international relief organizations.

Denial of humanitarian access

To date Khartoum has shown no inclination whatsoever to relent on this virtually total embargo on international humanitarian aid and assistance. Instead, the regime has made preposterous claims about its own provision of relief, especially in Blue Nile, where Khartoum insists that it controls 90 percent of the territory and "is providing services to 95 percent of its residents" (Reuters [dateline: Kurmuk], October 13, 2011). With the fall of Kurmuk, this claim will perhaps have some plausibility for the uninformed; but the statement, from a regime that lies constantly and shamelessly, tells us nothing about realities on the ground, and what it means to be displaced and without humanitarian resources in a region where the coming harvest will "generally fail," and where all food reserves have now been exhausted.

The international community, including the U.S., has not done nearly enough to raise the alarm about what is impending without Khartoum's immediate reversal of its unspeakably callous decision. Certainly there has been no willingness on the part of the UN to fulfill its explicit "responsibility to protect" civilians endangered in ways that are conspicuous in South Kordofan and Blue Nile (paragraphs 138 and 139 of the unanimously approved UN World Summit "Outcome Document," September 2005)

Refugees

Bombing attacks, those that Princeton Lyman declares the U.S. is not prepared to halt except by "encouraging negotiations," have also done most to generate the large and growing number of refugees in Ethiopia and South Sudan. Tens of thousands have already fled the two regions, and many more are in flight now; civilian flight could become wholesale if humanitarian access continues to be denied, and this may well be a deliberate "demographic reorganization" of both Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan by Khartoum. Many of those fleeing will never return to their homes, and the many who die will also contribute to a changed demography (here we should recall the genocidal jihad that this same regime directed against the Nuba people in the 1990s, and which came perilously close to annihilation). "Change the demography" was the notorious exhortation by Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal in a memo that was widely circulated among Khartoum's security services during the early phase of the Darfur genocide:

"You are informed that directives have been issued ... to change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes 'through burning, looting, and killing' of intellectuals and youths who may join the rebels in fighting.'"

Now a "change in demography" is proceeding in Blue Nile:

" ... aerial bombings in Sudan’s Blue Nile state were driving a new wave of refugees into Ethiopia, with nearly 2,000 arriving in the last four days alone. According to UNHCR, 'The new arrivals at the border area of Kurmuk, one of several refugee entry points into Ethiopia and considered to be the busiest, are mostly women, children and the elderly. 'They tell us they fled bombings and fear of bombings by Antonov planes in areas including Bau, Sali and Dinduro, all located between Kurmuk and the Blue Nile capital, Damazine,' UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said in a statement." (AfricaOnline, October 31, 2011)

The New York Times reports (October 31, 2011, Nairobi) on a journalist, Peter Muller, who made it into the war zone to file his observations:

"[Muller] found that the civilian population had almost entirely fled the Blue Nile area in face of attacks from the forces of the Bashir government. Many fled into Ethiopia and others crossed the border into South Sudan. 'There was a lot of concern over food shortages and the continuing bombing campaigns,' Mr. Muller said. 'The hospitals are running out of supplies and they can't replenish those stocks.'"

Other reports have come out steadily, certainly before the fall of Kurmuk (November 3). There can be no claim that we haven't known exactly why these people have fled to Ethiopia:

"In another hospital bed [in Kurmuk], 65-year-old Altom Osman is recovering from a deep shrapnel wound in his back and one in his arm after a bomb hit the village of Sali an hour north of Kurmuk. 'I was taking some sorghum flour to my wife. We were passing our farm and then the Antonov came immediately and bombed,' Osman whispered."

"Two hours further north, in Maiyas, village chief Khidir Abusita points to a hole a bomb from an Antonov made that he said killed six people, including 55-year-old Hakuma Yousif and her 20-year-old daughter Soura in their hut. 'Yesterday there were two Antonovs and they were circling for an hour. We are very scared ... We sleep by the river during the day and come back at night,' Abusita said." (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Kurmuk], October 10, 2011)

Many refugees in South Sudan have ended up in remote and almost inaccessible areas, given UN security restrictions on movement and the inability of UNMISS to secure humanitarian corridors for food delivery. Yida is the site of many of the thousands of refugees from the Nuba Mountains that have made it to Unity State---but they have run out of food, according to a highly reliable source on the ground, and the UN's World Food Program is not responding with either urgency or effectiveness. And even in South Sudan, refugees remain at risk of aerial bombardment, a matter that should be of urgent concern to the Security Council, since these are now attacks across an international border:

" ... refugees in South Sudan's oil-rich Unity state are in danger of aerial bombardment after fleeing fighting across the border from Sudan, the United Nations said. At least 1,000 people arrived in Unity state in the past week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today in a report. 'These individuals remain in an insecure location at the border with Sudan which is close to areas where regular aerial bombardments have taken place,' OCHA said." (Bloomberg, October 26, 2011)

Yet the refugees continue to flee, fearing the relentless aerial bombardment and having lost their lands in the violence. The UN High Commission for Refugees recently declared that:

"'Humanitarian partners are concerned that the number of people arriving to Unity might double before the end of the year if fighting continues in Southern Kordufan. In anticipation of a continued influx, other locations are being assessed as potential alternative sites as well,' [UNHCR] said." (PANA [dateline: Khartoum], November 3, 2011)

In late September the UN estimated that 25,000 civilians were refugees from Blue Nile who had crossed the border into Ethiopia; this figure was increased to 27,500 less than a week later. Four weeks later still, given the reported rates of entry into Ethiopia, the figure may well exceed 40,000. One humanitarian organization reports 22,000 refugees have made the arduous trek from the Nuba Mountains and elsewhere to Unity State in independent South Sudan. Here also there have been extremely high rates reported for daily and weekly increases in the number of refugees. And there is no sign that the exodus is slowing down; indeed, in the absence of humanitarian relief, this flow will become a flood of humanity.

Military assaults on civilians

We have known for many months now---certainly since the leaking of a UN human rights report at the beginning of July---that Khartoum has chosen to wage war in the most brutal fashion possible, both as a means of terrorizing civilians into fleeing and as a means of stoking ethnic and racial tensions. The UN human rights report on South Kordofan, prepared before Khartoum expelled all monitors from Kadugli, South Kordofan, was explicit on what could be observed or reported from this extraordinary vantage during the first three weeks of fighting in June:

"Interviews with witnesses and victims reveal that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and security forces have a list of Nubans wanted for being sympathetic to the SPLM/A, which supports the allegation that people in Southern Kordofan were targeted based on ethnicity. Witnesses also mentioned that persons of Nuban descent and 'other dark skinned people' were being targeted by SAF and Arab militias.” (§49)

"With the reinforcement of SAF, Central Reserve Police and militia elements, the security situation deteriorated on 7 June, with indiscriminate shelling of Kadugli town apparently targeting densely civilian-inhabited areas. This led to the secondary displacement of thousands of IDPs who had taken refuge in churches and hospitals to the UNMIS compound where they were sheltered in an area adjacent to the compound that was set up specifically to receive IDPs and provide them security and humanitarian assistance (Protective Perimeter)." (§9)

Some 7,000 Nuba sought protection in this UN "Protective Perimeter"; but on June 20 they were forcibly removed from international custody by regime security agents disguised as Red Crescent workers. To this day, the U.N. has not been able to give an account of where these people were taken, though the mass gravesites revealed in Satellite Sentinel Project reports suggest a grim possibility.

But again, the greatest human destruction will certainly proceed from relentless aerial bombardment, also reported by the UN human rights investigators:

"Since the eruption of the conflict, the SAF has carried out daily aerial bombardments into the Nuba Mountains and in several towns and villages populated by Nubans. The consequences of these bombardments on the Nuban people and in particular civilians, including women and children, are devastating. They have resulted in significant loss of life, destruction of properties, and massive displacement. UNMIS Human Rights has received photographs of mangled and mutilated bodies of civilians, some cut into halves, including women and children." (emphasis added) (§39)

The Enough Project has recently published a "field dispatch," reporting on interviews with refugees along the border between Blue Nile and Ethiopia:

"'Soldiers with small arms were chasing the civilians. They were supported by the Fellata [an ethnic group in Blue Nile], who captured some of the civilians and slaughtered people,' said Asma, who witnessed the outbreak of conflict in the town of Um Darfa. She said the militias and government forces did not spare children and pregnant women. 'It's all because we are black,' she said. When asked whether the militias or soldiers said anything to the civilians in their pursuit, Asma said the militias were shouting directions at each other, saying, 'Grab the slaves.'"

"Her account was corroborated by Kasmero who, when fleeing from the state capital of Damazine, ran through Um Darfa when fighting began. He said after the SAF attacked the town with helicopter gunships and Antonovs, the 'janjaweed' and Fellata began to indiscriminately kill civilians. 'I saw bodies all the way from Damazine to Ethiopia,' he said. 'There is no discrimination, the common theme is you are black.' Two towns he passed while fleeing, Ardaiba and Kambelle, were also burned to the ground, Kasmero said."

"Aziz, who fled from Baw town, told Enough that government militias---who were sent to bring back those who had fled to the mountains nearby---kidnapped and detained some of the displaced women and young girls in a school. 'At night they had visitors and they did whatever they wanted with them,' he said, referring to SAF soldiers and government militias. Two young girls were killed as a result of being raped by around 30 men, said Ali, who also fled from Baw and spoke to Enough with Aziz." (Herkoles Refugee Camp, Ethiopia, November 1, 2011)

Ryan Boyette, an American aid worker who has married a Nuba woman, reports from his own first-hand experience that in addition to observing an "extremely low" food supply, he "interviewed eyewitnesses who have 'described very clearly seeing soldiers enter houses, pulling people out and killing them, in front of their families, killing them in front of their community'" (Voice of America, October 21, 2011).

And the Blue Nile Association of North America reports that in the lead-up to the capture of Kurmuk, the SAF "used aerial bombardment, heavy artillery and helicopter gunships targeting the city of Kurmuk and the surrounding areas destroying water storage tanks, churches, schools and civilians' homes leaving tens of thousands of indigenous people dead, injured and many more fled to the Ethiopian border" (statement of November 6, 2011).

The View from South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei

What must these people think of those with the power, the means to assist them? A reliable source reports that the perception among residents of the two regions is increasingly that the U.S. feels no further commitment to either Blue Nile or South Kordofan---and that this extends to the US Agency for International Development. And who could blame these people for holding such a view? What has Lyman or other Obama officials said that offers them hope of international action or help of any sort?

The need is---as it has long been---for a comprehensive view of the perverse dynamic by which Khartoum is able to divide international attention, to play one crisis off another (as it did for years with Darfur and the quest for a North/South peace agreement). The threat of all-out war continues to loom closer, and certainly if Khartoum provokes South Sudan to join the fighting, what is already widespread conflict will become truly national in scope. In September the International Crisis Group recently warned that,

" ... hardliners within Mr Al Bashir's ruling National Congress Party wanted a military solution rather than negotiations. 'This, however, is pushing Sudan's disparate rebel movements and opposition forces together and could trigger a civil war for control of the country,' the [ICG report found]." (September 26, 2011, "Conflict Risk Alert: Stopping the Spread of Sudan's New Civil War")

In a speech following Khartoum's capture of Kurmuk, al-Bashir offered his most bellicose remarks 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)

This is clearly the language of the generals, and the instancing of Abyei highlights not only the mendacity of the regime, but its determination to achieve its goals militarily: it was the Sudan Armed Forces and its Misseriya militia allies that invaded and seized Abyei on May 20, after months of clearly visible preparation that the international community chose to ignore; it is the SAF that retains control of Abyei and refuses to withdraw, despite the agreement with South Sudan that brought Ethiopians troops to the region under UN auspices; and of course it was the regime that denied Abyei the self-determination referendum promised by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The specious justification for this denial, which entailed repudiating the "final and binding" ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (The Hague), strongly suggests that there was never any intention to allow a self-determination referendum. And at the insistence of the generals, the military invasion has created a fait accompli on the ground in Abyei.

These are the "provocations" al-Bashir ignores, even as "patience and restraint" on the part of the Government of South has been extraordinary. Al-Bashir's absurd but dangerous comments are a hallmark of what one close observer in Khartoum has called "the hour of the soldiers."

It must be emphasized, as Julie Flint has recently done in her superb account of the crisis in the Nuba Mountains, that "the risks of doing nothing are enormous," whether in Abyei, Blue Nile, South Kordofan, or Darfur. In South Kordofan the risk is---

" ... most immediate for Nuba civilians, who fear a counter-insurgency campaign similar to the one seen in Darfur, especially if the SPLM-N seeks to re-ignite conflicts in Darfur and eastern Sudan. Such an intensification of the war would risk escalating into a wider north-south war, and hardening international positions against Sudan." ("Return to War in Sudan's Nuba Mountains," US Institute of Peace, November 2, 2011)

As Flint clearly recognizes, the Khartoum regime would---

" ... would prefer a partial solution based on the particularities of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. That solution would likely be supported by internationals who are still focused on north-south issues, including Abyei, and reluctant to alienate Khartoum by challenging it on the big issues of democratization and governance. This would be a mistake."

For as Flint also rightly observes (and this is largely true for Blue Nile as well):

"The rank and file of the Nuba SPLA seeks rapid progress toward transformation of politics at the center. Failing that, we can expect new emphasis on the fall-back agenda---the right of self-determination. This would not generate international backing. But the Nuba, feeling betrayed by previous international-mediated agreements, might not be in a mood to take heed. The war in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile needs to be mediated before the parties' positions become even more polarized and any reasonable settlement slips away."

And as Flint emphasizes, there is economic leverage that can be used to modify the regime's military and negotiating positions, and thus encourage the "new South" to participate in negotiations, despite the betrayals to date:

"With the government of Sudan facing a crippling financial crisis as a result of a 75 percent drop in oil revenues after partition in July, there is enormous international leverage over Khartoum on economic issues. The decision to risk war in Southern Kordofan by disarming the Nuba SPLA was a decision taken at the national level, against the advice of senior National Congress Party figures in the state and some army commanders. The international community must therefore put pressure on the national government to negotiate, and on the leadership of Sudan Armed Forces to seek a process of reform and rebuilding, with international partnership, to reduce risk in conflict areas." (emphasis added)

This is a tall order, and indeed is unlikely without regime change. But international pressures will surely strengthen the hand of those who are most likely to help Sudan make the extraordinarily difficult transition from a long tradition of authoritarian governance to something like democracy. The regime will never open up political space on its own; and the international community can't create that space within Sudan. But a range of international actors can create the conditions that make regime change possible and ultimately a fundamental change in the political culture of northern Sudan.

The limited and short-sighted commitment of the U.S. and other nations, including the perverse failure to exert pressure on Khartoum, seems to ensure "an intensification of the war," and that "civil war for control of the country" is increasingly likely. Those such as Lyman who claim limited means, inadequate tools, or insufficient leverage should ask themselves whether they are prepared to accept such bloody and destructive conflict as appears in the offing---and the inevitably vast attendant humanitarian crises. This is especially true of the U.S., which gives many signs of allowing Khartoum's provision of "counter-terrorism intelligence" to trump the extraordinarily great human needs of millions of human beings throughout Sudan.

[See my lengthy analysis of this skewed administration priority: "What Really Animates the Obama Administration’s Sudan Policy?" Sudan Tribune, October 11, 2011]

Certainly without a much greater commitment of diplomatic, economic, and potentially military resources, there will be no credibility for those who plead that "they did all they could" to stop the renewed outbreak of war in Sudan, war that now appears increasingly likely. This will be a lie, and the evidence is all too conspicuously before us now.

[A follow-up analysis will focus on the consequences for Darfur of international attention that seems, disastrously, unable to respond to more than one Sudan crisis at a time.]

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

Acquiescence Before Mass Human Destruction in Sudan's Border Regions

Blue Nile and South Kordofan face catastrophic humanitarian crises

Following Khartoum's military assaults on South Kordofan (June 5) and Blue Nile (September 1), hundreds of thousands of civilians now face relentless aerial attacks, violent displacement, and starvation as the harvests are poised for failure. For Khartoum is denying all humanitarian access to these acutely vulnerable populations. There are no indications the international community is prepared to change the regime's ruthless military calculations, which are rapidly leading to catastrophe.

By Eric Reeves

October 24, 2011 (SSNA) -- For two months now the world has watched as the brutal regime in Khartoum continues to deny all relief access to large populations of acutely vulnerable civilians in Blue Nile State, which lies immediately north of the border dividing what are now North and South Sudan. The same embargo, extending even to independent humanitarian assessment missions, has been in place in neighboring South Kordofan State for five months. This scandalous fact bears repeating, since it has been so poorly reported: the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum has barred all international relief organizations from responding to what substantial evidence makes clear are major humanitarian crises in Blue Nile and South Kordofan---and both crises are on the verge of becoming overwhelming catastrophes, involving many hundreds of thousands of civilians.

There is an eerie familiarity to all this, for what we are seeing is an accelerated reprise of Khartoum's strategy of obstructing relief efforts in Darfur, a strategy the regime committed to aggressively once it recognized its "error" in allowing an international humanitarian presence in Darfur. Regime officials now repeatedly make clear that they won't allow "another Darfur" to emerge in either South Kordofan or Blue Nile---there won't be any witnesses to the massive suffering and destruction that are well underway. And of course, in addition to banning all relief efforts, the regime allows no journalists or human rights monitors into either of these states.

We should remember that this regime has a decades-long history of obstructing humanitarian aid in Sudan, including the total embargo on relief efforts imposed by Khartoum on the Nuba Mountains throughout the 1990s---part of a jihad that is widely acknowledged to have been genocidal in ambition. Throughout the bloody civil war, which claimed well over 2 million lives in the South and border states---mainly from disease and malnutrition related to violence---Khartoum frequently cut off all humanitarian aid to the South for long periods of time. Because virtually all of Sudan was and remains inaccessible except by air---there are almost no roads, and in the long rainy season these are mainly impassible---airlift capacity and access are what's critical. So all that Khartoum had to do to shut down humanitarian relief was deny air access to the large international humanitarian organizations based in Lokichokio, northern Kenya. In early July 2002, for example, the UN estimate for those being denied humanitarian assistance in the South was 1.7 million human beings.

So how has the U.S. responded to this most recent chapter in the regime's deployment of its crude "weapon of mass destruction"? Officials of the Obama administration continue to go through the motions of demanding humanitarian access as well as an independent investigation of the well-documented, large-scale atrocity crimes in Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan; but it does so without either conviction or determination (the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, first called for such a independent human rights investigation over two months ago, and can point to no progress whatsoever). There is very strong evidence that similar atrocity crimes are being committed in Blue Nile, certainly in the form of continuous, indiscriminate aerial attacks on civilians throughout much of the state (see my October 15 update to an analysis of such attacks over the past twelve years, at www.sudanbombing.org). And yet condemnation by the U.S. has been tepid at best.

Instead, the U.S., the UN, and other international actors of consequence have for months indulged in offering muted condemnations and making facile "demands" with no expectation of compliance. Since Khartoum's military invasion of Abyei more than five months ago (May 20), the regime has not budged an inch from any of its categorical refusals. It will not withdraw militarily from Abyei, as it has promised; it will not engage in any discussions of access for humanitarians or human rights investigators; and it will not negotiate a political settlement to the conflict in South Kordofan, as it committed to doing in late June. The only change of note is that the propaganda organs of the regime have dramatically increased their activities and are now offering hideously distorting accounts of civilian life in the two states, and at the same time boasting that "regional and international changes [are] working in Sudan’s favour."

As I argued in August, shortly before Khartoum's military assault on Blue Nile, the international community and the UN in particular were setting themselves up for failure by demanding what would clearly not be granted, or even supported in the Security Council. The UN High Commission for Human Rights had declared very publicly that there should be in South Kordofan an "independent, thorough, and objective inquiry with the aim of holding perpetrators to account." But it was obvious then and now that Khartoum would never accede to this demand; and it was equally clear that a Security Council resolution authorizing any form of non-consensual investigation---even for ethnically-targeted mass executions---would never survive China's (or Russia's) veto. The failure I spoke of is now conspicuous: despite the demand for an independent UN human rights investigation, no serious effort was ever made by the U.S. or any other member of the Security Council to seek authorization for such an investigation. And yet in characteristic fashion this failure has been passed over without remark or self-criticism. The evident thinking is that if the diplomatic mumbling continues long enough, then no definitive failure will be registered.

No matter that following Khartoum's invasion of Abyei, a UN human rights team found strong evidence of actions "tantamount to ethnic cleansing" (the UN Secretariat would later disingenuously weaken this report); no matter that the military assault on South Kordofan began shortly thereafter, and we have received since June overwhelming evidence of widespread, ethnically-targeted civilian destruction, including extraordinarily revealing satellite photographs of mass gravesites; no matter that we have numerous eyewitness accounts of house-to-house searches and roadblocks targeting the African tribal grouping known as the Nuba. But there can be no doubt about the authority of a confidential UN human rights report, prepared by UN investigators who were on the ground for several weeks in June as part of the UN peacekeeping mission stationed in Kadugli. Their report was promptly leaked and its central conclusion made clear the urgency of a human rights investigation:

"Instead of distinguishing between civilians and combatants and accordingly directing their military operations only against military targets, the Sudan Armed Forces and allied paramilitary forces have targeted members and supporters of the SPLM/A, most of whom are Nubans and other dark skinned people."

Arab militias have been widely reported to be doing much of the fighting for Khartoum, both in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. On October 22, SPLM-N Secretary General Yasir Arman asserted that Khartoum was in fact deploying mercenaries:

"The National Congress Party military has been, of late, actively engaged in recruiting Janjaweed militias---mostly non-Sudanese---from North and West Africa, particularly Niger. The airports of Al-Geneina and Nyala, Darfur, recently witnessed a flurry of flights transporting mercenaries to Damazin." (Press Release, Office of the Secretary General of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, October 22, 2011) The large-scale use of mercenaries would mark a new stage in the Khartoum regime's ruthless survivalism, and yet another crushing military expense for a budget and economy that are already in a shambles.

Obama administration skepticism

That an attack on South Kordofan was imminent was clear in the first days of June, primarily from evidence of a rapidly accelerating movement of men, arms and armor toward South Kordofan from the main forward military base at el-Obeid and other northern bases. Soon after the invasion, Satellite Sentinel Project photography revealed unambiguously that there were mass gravesites in and around Kadugli. The policy of the Obama administration in the face of such massive evidence, supported by numerous eyewitness accounts from the ground, was at once dismissive and skeptical; this peculiar skepticism extended even to a highly tendentious claim that the administration possessed (unspecified) intelligence that called into question the validity of the Satellite Sentinel Project findings. That skepticism, particularly on the part special envoy Lyman, has had the effect---presumably designed---of diminishing the urgency of the crises in the region. Lyman's comments during an interview of June 28 (just as the UN human rights investigators were completing their powerfully damning report) suggest an almost casual concern for the unmistakable commission of atrocity crimes, and a specious moral equivalence as well:

"Because we don't have a presence there [in South Kordofan], we haven't been able to investigate [the many reports of atrocity crimes] fully. There are certainly reports of targeted killings. There are some reports from the other side also. What we've asked for is a full investigation."

And to the follow-up question ("By whom [should the investigation be conducted]?") Lyman responded baldly:

"Well, by the UN would be the best. The UN presence has not been sufficient to get out and stop this or to investigate it."

Given this facile, finally disingenuous answer---Lyman certainly knew that no such UN investigation would be authorized---we must inevitably wonder about motives. Why these perfunctory answers to such pressing questions? What lay behind the contrived skepticism about findings from the Satellite Sentinel Project?

I have argued at length that there are strong indications, past and present, that U.S. policy toward Sudan is and has been unduly influenced by a lust for counter-terrorism intelligence from Khartoum's ruthless security services, something reported in chillingly compelling fashion by the Los Angeles Times (June 17, 2005) and the Washington Post (August 30, 2010). The larger point here was made emphatically by former Senator Russ Feingold, who spoke with unrivalled authority, sitting on the Senate Intelligence Committee and chairing the Africa subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

"I take serious issue with the way the report [on international terrorism by the U.S. State Department] overstates the level of cooperation in our counterterrorism relationship with Sudan, a nation which the U.S. classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism. A more accurate assessment is important not only for effectively countering terrorism in the region, but as part of a review of our overall policy toward Sudan, including U.S. pressure to address the ongoing crisis in Darfur and maintain the fragile peace between the North and the South." (Statement by Senator Russell Feingold, Chair of the Africa Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, May 1, 2009)

No other Senator joined former Senator Feingold in demanding that there be a response to this serious concern. As a consequence, the Obama administration has felt no serious Congressional pressure to acknowledge either the authority or significance of Feingold's damning assertions.

But of course none of this matters to those who are already victims of a regime that sees the U.S. as obsessed with the prize of Khartoum-generated counter-terrorism intelligence. None of this matters to people who are uprooted, unprotected, and without humanitarian resources. Precisely because the regime allows no journalists, human rights monitors, or humanitarians into these highly threatened areas, we are left only with only broadly informed estimates, or evidence that is based on news accounts or accounts that come anecdotally from embedded or fleeing Sudanese civilians. But there are a number of credible estimates and a great deal of such reportage, some from intrepid journalists who have made it to the Kauda area of the Nuba Mountains and to Kurmuk, which is the southern Blue Nile stronghold of the northern indigenous rebel force (formerly allied with the rebel movement that secured Southern independence): the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement-North (SPLA/M-N). There are even a few courageous humanitarians who have refused to withdraw from these regions, and have reported in excruciating detail on what they have seen.

Consequences of inaction

The possibility and immense danger of a military response by Khartoum in South Kordofan and Blue Nile had been conspicuous for quite some time before the assaults actually occurred, as had the invasion of Abyei. And yet no international actor of consequence spoke out in meaningful fashion; here the U.S. has plenty of company in failing miserably to anticipate the present violence, and the entirely predictable humanitarian crises that have come in its wake. Khartoum was not warned seriously against initiating the clearly impending assaults on South Kordofan (June 5) and Blue Nile (September 1); rather, the regime took its cue from the muted diplomacy of perfunctory exhortations and glib "expectations." Following the brutal military seizure of the disputed Abyei region (May 20), the regime in Khartoum understood there was no serious commitment to halt their military endeavors. The Obama administration, as represented by special envoy Lyman, seemed clearly willing to let Khartoum have its way in the North, so long as some terms of the CPA continue to be observed as South Sudan struggled into nationhood.

Just as a senior administration official declared that genocide in Darfur had been "de-coupled" from the key issue in bilateral relations between Khartoum and Washington (i.e., Khartoum's continuing presence on the U.S. State Department list of terrorism-sponsoring nations), so atrocity crimes and even extermination in northern states, on whatever scale, are apparently insufficient to compel any robust U.S. response or change in policy. Given such decisions, to pretend that we don't really know what is going on, as Lyman has repeatedly tried to do, is a nasty bit of political expediency.

Dispatches with datelines in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile have come from a wide range of news organizations. UN investigators, part of the UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIS) with a base in Kadugli, produced their searing human rights report in late June/early July, and it included the following:

"Instead of distinguishing between civilians and combatants and accordingly directing their military operations only against military targets, the Sudan Armed Forces and allied paramilitary forces have targeted members and supporters of the SPLM/A, most of whom are Nubans and other dark skinned people."

"[This campaign included] aerial bombardments resulting in destruction of property, forced displacement, significant loss of civilian lives, including of women, children and the elderly; abductions; house-to-house searches; arbitrary arrests and detentions; targeted killings; summary executions; reports of mass graves; systematic destruction of dwellings and attacks on churches."

"With the reinforcement of Sudan Armed Forces, Central Reserve Police and militia elements, the security situation deteriorated on 7 June, with indiscriminate shelling of Kadugli town apparently targeting densely civilian-inhabited areas."

"On 22 June, an UNMIS independent contractor reported witnessing SAF elements fill a mass grave in Al Gardut Locality in Tillo with dead bodies. She reported that SAF elements transported the bodies to the site, dumped them in the grave and using a bulldozer to cover the grave. On 10 June, UNMIS Human Rights interviewed residents from Murta village, outside of Kadugli Town, who stated that they saw fresh mass graves located in a valley southeast of the Murta bus station near the Kadugli police training centre."

And UNMIS was not the only source for reports of egregious violations of human rights. Many Nuba have reported bombing attacks on civilians since June 5, as well mass slaughter and assaults on humanitarian operations and workers. Julie Flint in The Observer (UK) (July 17, 2011) draws on many years of experience and unimpeachable sources in reporting that:

"National staff of international aid organisations have also come under attack. UNMIS cites the case of a young Nuba woman arrested and accused of supporting the SPLM. UNMIS human rights officers saw bruises and scars on her body consistent with her claim to have been beaten with fists, sticks, rubber hoses and electric wires."

"Underscoring the need for the 'independent and comprehensive investigation' UNMIS recommends, the Observer has been told---by a hitherto impeccable source not connected to the SPLM/A---that 410 captured SPLM sympathisers were ordered executed on 10 June by Major-General Ahmad Khamis, one of four senior army officers sent to South Kordofan from Khartoum at the start of the war .... "

These are the reports, along with unambiguous satellite imagery from the Satellite Sentinel Project, about which Lyman has continued to express skepticism. Also ignored were dispatches from a number of journalists who made it to Kauda in July, in the center of the Nuba Mountains. There they reported---often with accompanying photography---on the horrific human toll taken by relentless aerial attacks on civilian targets. At a crucial time in the agricultural cycle, when the planting and tending of crops was critical, there was instead massive displacement. The people of the Nuba are facing starvation in the near term.

And from Blue Nile we also have many dispatches with a Kurmuk dateline (the town actually straddles the Sudan/Ethiopia border), reporting again on relentless aerial attacks directed against civilian targets (again, see my October 15 update to the history of this long-term military practice, at www.sudanbombing.org ). Within days of the September 1 assault, the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (UK), with excellent sources throughout Sudan, was reporting that, "On 3 September, aircraft continued to bomb SPLM areas. The main water reservoir in Al Damazein was destroyed in the bombardment, possibly in a deliberate attempt to deprive the population of this essential resource. About 75 bodies have been confirmed to be present in the Al Damazein morgue. The hospital has declared an emergency."

The UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (October 17, dateline: Kurmuk) makes clear the relationship between the lack of food and aerial bombardment by Antonovs:

"Khidir Abusita, the chief of Maiyas village, in Sudan's crisis-hit Blue Nile state, points to a bomb and the shrapnel that ripped through two 'tukuls' (conical mud and thatch huts) on 2 October. That day, the Sudan Armed Forces' Antonov bomber planes literally broke apart two families and left the village terrorized by their almost daily appearance. Abusita spoke to IRIN about the damage caused to his village: 'The Antonov came here at around midday [on 2 October]; it bombed the place, killing six people, including one child. Among the people who died were two pregnant women.'"

"In one of the affected families, three people died and three are remaining, so we took these three behind the mountain to hide. In this other family, two died and three are remaining. 'Another man who was just passing by to visit his neighbours was killed too. They were just farmers. His leg was cut and we tried to take him to hospital but he died.' 'The other injured man is lying at Kurmuk hospital after the [bomb] cut his feet and stomach.' 'Yesterday [1 October] there were two Antonovs around the area. They just circled overhead for one hour, so we are very scared.' 'Most of the people have stayed here, but behind the mountains. We sleep near the river during the day and come back to the village at night.' 'We just eat from these small, small farms; we just [grow food] near our houses because this year we haven't been able to go to our farms in the valley to cultivate.'" (emphasis added)

"We don't have sugar, we don't have tea, we don't have coffee. Also there is no medicine, people are just depending on the traditional medicine. 'There are 3,475 people in the village and no one has enough food. We don't know what to do,' [said chief Abusita]."

Towards the end of September the UN declared that it was urgent to get food to the people of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, even as estimates of numbers of displaced persons and food needs was already inadequate to the realities of human need now apparent. Malik Agar, the elected governor of Blue Nile---and deposed by Khartoum---has estimated that half Blue Nile's population of 1.2 million is "on the move." And they are on the move at a time that should be given over entirely to harvesting crops planted during the past rainy season. There is no way to verify Malik's estimate, but it would be foolish to ignore the clear indications that hundreds of thousands of people are now displaced. More than 30,000 have already fled to Ethiopia; many others to neighboring Sennar State. As in South Kordofan, the very rough humanitarian assessments of food availability suggest that massive human starvation may be imminent if access is not granted by the regime. Valerie Amos, the head of UN humanitarian operations---and who in mid-July early declared that "we do not know whether these is any truth to the grave allegations of human rights abuses" in South Kordofan---found herself obliged to declare (August 30) that:

"[M]ore than 200,000 people affected by the fighting in South Kordofan faced 'potentially catastrophic levels of malnutrition and mortality' because of Khartoum denying access to aid agencies. Also this week, two leading human rights groups said that deadly air raids on civilians in rebel-held areas of the Nuba Mountains may amount to war crimes."

More recently the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) put the matter more bluntly, if still almost certainly understating, significantly, the scale of human need:

"The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has also launched a $3.5-million appeal to help 235,000 people on the brink of starvation in Sudan's embattled southern border region, because of fighting in Blue Nile and South Kordofan." (emphasis added)

The FAO has also indicated in its October 5 news release that the forecast for food security is exceedingly grim, and that "next month's harvest is expected to generally fail." (emphasis added)

"Next month's harvest is expected to generally fail ... " ---and there is no international humanitarian presence or access.

What will it take to stop the continuing slide toward catastrophe in South Kordofan and Blue Nile? And what about Darfur, which is no longer mentioned by the U.S. and the Europeans except parenthetically? To make matters worse, both the UN and the African Union are, for different reasons, committed to a representation of Darfur that minimizes ongoing suffering and destruction, and highlights an essentially meaningless (and potentially counter-productive) agreement that finally emerged in July from the bumbling and increasingly politicized Doha (Qatar) peace talks.

Certainly much was revealed about the future of marginalized regions in northern Sudan with the breakdown of the important framework agreement signed on June 28 by Malik Agar, representing the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement-North, and by presidential advisor Nafi'e Ali Nafi'e of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime. The agreement committed the signatories to seek a political resolution of the conflict and to begin immediate negotiations for a cease-fire. But the agreement was promptly disowned by President al-Bashir on his return from China (July 1, 2011). More than disowning the agreement, al-Bashir declared at Friday prayers:

"'[Al-Bashir] 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." (emphasis added)

In al-Bashir's abrupt reneging we saw for the first time the full power of the generals who now dominate the political and security cabal that rules in Khartoum. These military figures, several of them senior cabinet officials, have slowly moved Sudan into what one well-informed source in Khartoum calls the "hour of the soldiers." In short, there has been a "creeping military coup," and some of the generals who are now so powerful appear on a range of lists assembled by UN and other bodies for the prosecution of atrocity crimes by the International Criminal Court (Abdel Rahmin Mohamed Hussein, the current Defense Minister and former Minister of the Interior, is one of 17 named on a confidential annex to a report by the former UN Panel of Experts on Darfur; February 2006). They know their future depends on surviving at all costs, or they will spend the rest of their lives in The Hague.

But there is no apparent recognition of this new political reality in Khartoum by the Obama administration, and special envoy Lyman simply repeats his glib assessment: "there is no military solution to the conflict," and all the U.S. can do is "promote negotiations." But it is precisely a military solution to its "new southern problem" that Khartoum is seeking, as al-Bashir's comments make perfectly clear. And as for negotiations, the regime is equally blunt: "Sudan will never again negotiate 'under UN supervision'":

"'There will be no negotiation with the SPLM-N because it was the one that started the war' [President al-Bashir] said, adding that ending the state of war in the two states is contingent on the SPLM-N's acceptance of the elections results in South Kordofan and surrendering its arms to the Sudanese army. 'There are no more negotiations or protocols, this is our position,' Al-Bashir declared." ("Bashir takes pride in Sudan's defiance of UN resolutions," Sudan Tribune, October 13, 2011)

Lyman has made no comment on such intransigence by one of the "negotiating" partners he would have us believe can be accommodated diplomatically. And he no longer pushes for the independent, UN-led human rights investigation he thought worth proposing in June; now there is a hideously belated focus on humanitarian access, as the desperate plight of many hundreds of thousands of civilians no longer permits any skepticism:

"United Special envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman urged Khartoum to allow 'credible' international organizations to reach the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile in order to assess the humanitarian situation."

But this plea will be met with the same aggressiveness and truculent defiance that has increasingly become the hallmark of the Khartoum regime. And having pleaded so feebly previously, there is precious little reason to believe that Lyman's voice will carry any weight now.

It is happening, before our very eyes, if we would only see. Yes, of course there is much that we don't know; but there is too much that we do know for any further delay to be justified: even exceedingly conservative UN estimates for displacement and humanitarian need are more than enough. And do we have any doubt about the authenticity of these narratives from Kurmuk? or the significance of deliberate, continuous aerial attacks on civilians and agricultural livelihoods?

"In another hospital bed, 65-year-old Altom Osman is recovering from a deep shrapnel wound in his back and one in his arm after a bomb hit the village of Sali an hour north of Kurmuk. 'I was taking some sorghum flour to my wife. We were passing our farm and then the Antonov came immediately and bombed,' Osman whispered. Two hours further north, in Maiyas, village chief Khidir Abusita points to a hole a bomb from an Antonov made that he said killed six people, including 55-year-old Hakuma Yousif and her 20-year-old daughter Soura in their hut. 'Yesterday there were two Antonovs and they were circling for an hour. We are very scared...'" (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Kurmuk], October 17, 2011)

"[Following Southern] independence in July this year, Maza Soya led her nine children out of a squalid camp in Ethiopia dreaming of a new life back home in Sudan. Last month, however, fighting erupted in Blue Nile state between the northern Sudanese army and fighters allied to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the dominant force in the newly independent South Sudan. 'Our homes were burnt down to the ground. There were daily air raids on our town,' Soya told Reuters two weeks after fleeing back to Ethiopia's frontier town of Kurmuk." (Reuters [dateline: Kurmuk], October 14, 2011)

"Satdam Anima's eyes flicker and weep as the doctor sews up the stump of his left arm, before he rolls back on the hospital bed, one of the latest victims in Sudan's relentless bombing campaign in Blue Nile state. Dr Evan Atar says he has done seven amputations since war broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and fighters loyal to the SPLM-North in Blue Nile state last month. He has treated more than 600 others for shrapnel wounds. 'We are really now running out of supplies. We have been running here and there and crying... But now where to get it from is really an issue,' he said."

"President Omar al-Bashir has blocked foreign aid agencies from entering Blue Nile and nearby South Kordofan state, where a separate conflict between the army and SPLM-North rebels has raged since June. Kurmuk's is the only hospital between neighbouring Ethiopia and Damazin, the state capital of Blue Nile, which remains under SAF control, and Dr Atar is the only doctor. He says the hospital will run out of vital supplies such as saline solution, cotton and gauze this week if no aid arrives, after using up six months' supplies in one."

"A man on the operating table cries out in pain, but Atar says the hospital has no more anaesthetics to give him. Cotton, gauze and saline solution will run out this week if aid does not arrive, he says, adding that six months of supplies have been used up in the past six weeks. 'We are running short of everything---drugs, dressings.' He feared the hospital would have to buy salt, boil it, and use it to sterilize wounds. 'The problem is that there is no way we can get the drugs in here now because of the Antonovs bombing the area, making it very dangerous to fly supplies in from Kenya.' Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir will not allow foreign aid agencies inside Blue Nile or the neighbouring state of South Kordofan, where the government has been fighting SPLM-N forces for months." (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Kurmuk], October 10, 2011)

"Atar is the only doctor in Kurmuk, which has the only hospital between state capital Damazin, and neighbouring Ethiopia. Nurse Walid Solomon says 20-year-old soldier Satdam Anima is the seventh amputee victim the hospital has dealt with. He was hit by 'the big bullet of the Antonov.' Atar, with Solomon's assistance, sews up the stump near the left shoulder, and Satdam's eyes roll in pain. The lack of blood donors mean that the hospital's 24 nurses donate blood to keep patients alive. The aerial bombardment in and around Kurmuk is evident and audible. 'In the first war, there was peace in the villages; now they [Antonovs] bomb even the villages---that's the problem; and the increasing accuracy of the bombing is leading to rising patient numbers as the weeks go by,' Atar said." (UN IRIN [dateline: Kurmuk], October 12, 2011)

"At the beginning of October, locals say a bomb killed half a dozen people in Maiyes, a village near Ethiopia's border. Holding a piece of twisted iron shrapnel next to the churned earth around the crater, neighbour Mahmoud Abdanafi Jundi says the village buried the victims' bodies in one grave. 'When the bomb hit, the people in the house over there, three of them were killed. The people who were living here also died. A child over there was also killed,' he said, gesturing to thatched huts that now lie empty." (Reuters [dateline: Kurmuk], October 13, 2011)

"They fled their village of Sally after a bombing raid. But even in this temporary camp she has not found safety. 'I don't know why the Antonov came and bombed us, but we left our village and came here,' she said. 'And after we came here, we found that the Antonov is coming also to this place.' Earlier that day, she narrowly escaped being hit by shrapnel from a bomb dropped in a river bed where villagers were searching for scraps of gold to sell for food. When the bombs hit their target, the results are deadly. A crater in the ground was all that was left of one family's hut in Maiyes village, about 20 kilometres from the front line. Household possessions, including a child's shoe, were scattered around. Relatives and neighbours held up twisted pieces of shrapnel, which they said had ripped apart the family of six."

"'One of them was pregnant and it cut her stomach,' said Heder Abusita, the village chief. 'Rueana Murdis also was killed here with her small kid. And also there is Bushara. He died here in this house. His feet were cut, and his stomach also was cut.'" (The National [AE] [dateline: Kurmuk], October 19, 2011)

"Huwa Gundi, 21, sits on a sheet outside two makeshift tents near her home village of Sali, where her extended family of eight now live off one meal a day. Cradling her four-month-old baby, Fatma, she says her three other children have died since the start of the conflict in Sudan's Blue Nile State in early September. 'They were sick, and they died; there was no medicine,' Gundi said, adding that Fatma now has diarrhoea and a fever at night. 'We heard the voice of the Antonov [plane used by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) for dropping bombs]. We know it well,' she said, referring to the bombing of her village, Sali, which she and her family were forced to abandon. 'We don’t have anything to eat; we just go into the bush and then in the old farms we find some "dura" [sorghum] that is growing and we just make porridge,' she said." (UN IRIN [dateline: Kurmuk], October 13, 2011)

Either the world very soon finds the political will to make clear to Khartoum that there will be intolerable consequences if they proceed with their policies of extermination, or history will record that the U.S and a great many others were willing to accommodate what it knew to be mass human destruction, defined by widespread and systematic atrocity crimes, and do nothing but weakly exhort those responsible to behave better. It will be one of the ugliest chapters in the grim history of the past century.

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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