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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.”

"They Bombed Everything that Moved"

Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 -2011 (report and data update as of October 15, 2011)
July 15 - October 15, 2011

By Eric Reeves

October 15, 2011 (SSNA) -- Since this report and data spreadsheet were originally released on May 6, 2011, the Sudan Armed Forces---at the direction of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum---have continued their aerial onslaught against civilians in various regions of North Sudan. This savagery has now spread from South Kordofan to another northern border state, Blue Nile. At the same time, civilian villages in Darfur, without any military presence, continue to be targeted. I have argued that in aggregate, these many hundreds of confirmed, deliberate aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians---going back more than a decade---constitute crimes against humanity. So, too, does the widespread, systematic denial of humanitarian access on an ethnic as is, something the UN first reported in Darfur in 2003(in South Sudan the Nuba Mountains this had begun over a decade earlier). And yet these tactics, which have defined the military strategy of the Khartoum regime for so long, show no signs of being curtailed. Nor is there any sign that these atrocity crimes will confront meaningful action by international actors, who know full well their deadly consequences---and hence the consequences of their own acquiescence.

In South Kordofan the bombing continues to be particularly intense in the Nuba Mountains, and for months has prevented planting and tending of crops; continued bombing now endangers even am eager harvest. Khartoum has prevented all international humanitarian access to a vast population that is now squarely facing starvation. Many people have made the dangerous trek to South Sudan, some 8,000 as of mid-September, and the UN High Commission for Refugees estimated at the time that there were some 500 new arrivals per day.

Civilians in Blue Nile---another region with a long history of marginalization, violence, and tyranny at the hands of the NIF/NCP regime---are consistently reported as enduring daily bombing attacks. Civilian casualties have been high and the number of civilians displaced by bombardment is enormous. Elected governor Malik Agar estimates that half of Blue Nile's 1.2 million people are now on the move. This is harvest season and it appears increasingly unlikely that those forced from their lands by aerial military violence will be able to survive without international humanitarian aid---which Khartoum has again denied categorically.

Lacking food and humanitarian assistance, and facing increasing violence, civilians from Blue Nile have begun to pour into neighboring Ethiopia, with no end to the exodus in sight:

"The UN Refugee Agency(UNHCR) says 27,500 people have fled the conflict in Blue Nile State to nearby Ethiopia since early September. The agency is due to open a second camp 200kmfrom the border with a capacity of 3,000 people, as fighting and SAF aerial bombardments continue." (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [IRIN] [dateline: Kurmuk], October 13, 2011)

In South Kordofan, the SPLA/M-North leader Abdel Aziz el-Hilu reports that as many as 500,000Nuba have been displaced, and he has assembled locality data to support this claim. The actual figure for displaced persons can't be known, but now---after more than four months of intense bombings---it is almost certainly more than 300,000, and the number of conflict-affected civilians much greater. Khartoum's military assaults on Abyei (May20), South Kordofan (June 5), and Blue Nile (September 1) may now have displaced 1 million civilians.

Origins and character of conflict in Blue Nile

Violence in Blue Nile was initiated by Khartoum's Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) on September 1, 2011 in yet another well-prepared assault. Such an assault was predicted in a previous iteration of this update (July 15, 2011), as it was by the elected governor of Blue Nile, Malik Agar. Malik insisted to all who would listen that the longer conflict and ethnic targeting of civilians continued in South Kordofan, the more likely it was that Blue Nile would be drawn into the fighting. Unsurprisingly, Malik's residence in Damazine was the first target of SAF shelling. Such shelling has now extended southward toward Kurmuk as Khartoum increasingly engages in "stand-off" military actions against the forces so effectively led by Malik (the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement-North; SPLA/M-N). Large-scale, long-range, and indiscriminate shelling has many of the same effects as aerial bombardment by Antonov aircraft, which are inherently incapable of achieving bombing accuracy sufficient to be militarily effective. It is now the greatest fear of many on the ground in Blue Nile. UN IRIN reports from Kurmuk (October 12, 2011):

"The priority is to move patients from the hospital as quickly as possible, either back home or across the border to Ethiopia where other aid agencies can care for them. 'The fear that an Antonov might bomb [the hospital] is terrible,' [Dr. Evan] Atar said, adding: 'Most of the people who were injured are people who were running. The bomb usually explodes upwards in a conical form, so if you keep down you are fine.'"

But fear in such circumstances can be extremely difficult to control; and the fact that Khartoum is notorious for its deliberate bombing of hospitals is widely known among the people who endured more than 20 years of civil war (see original May 6 report, pp. 14 - 15, 23 - 24). Moreover, as Dr. Atar also notes:

"'In the [civil] war, there was peace in the villages; now they [the Antonovs] bomb even the villages---that's the problem; and the increasing accuracy of the bombing is leading to rising patient numbers as the weeks go by.'" (UN IRIN[dateline: Kurmuk], October 12, 2011)

While still not sufficiently accurate to be militarily effective, there have been repeated reports of Antonovs increasing their accuracy through crude bomb-sighting mechanisms, and their destructiveness by using bombs with greater explosive power.

Atar, who is the only doctor in Kurmuk, notes the connection between bombing and shelling by Khartoum's SAF and the looming food shortages: "Food would also become a problem [ ]. 'First of all the war will continue and the second thing is, now, hunger will come and it is not going to spare anyone unless the people go and become refugees to be helped, but for the people left within, it is going to be a big problem.' Artillery fire directed at rebels could be the last straw. 'For now it is the Antonov bombing, but I don't think I would be here if there is shelling ... and no patients could be brought here,' Atar said" (emphasis added) (UNIRIN October 12). And even now, a major SAF force is on the move toward Kurmuk. A highly alarming report from the Satellite Sentinel Project (September 23), based on substantial satellite photography, indicates a massive formation of armor, troops, and military aircraft: "heavily camouflaged, mechanized units comprising at least a brigade---3,000 troops or more"; "these forces appear to be equipped with heavy armor and artillery, supported by helicopter gunships." Once they are in artillery range, they will likely engage in annihilating shelling, which will compel the SPLA/N to withdraw or risk large numbers of casualties among civilians who have remained (a rapidly dwindling number).

The experience of civilians who are bombed and shelled is captured in an important dispatch from Agence France-Presse (also with a Kurmuk dateline, October 10):

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

"Kurmuk's is the only hospital between neighbouring Ethiopia and Damazin ... and Dr Atar is the only doctor. He says the hospital will run out of vital supplies such as saline solution, cotton and gauze this week if no aid arrives, after using up six months' supplies in one [month]. In another hospital bed, 65-year-old Altom Osman is recovering from a deep shrapnel wound in his back and one in his arm after a bomb hit the village of Sali an hour north of Kurmuk. 'I was taking some sorghum flour to my wife. We were passing our farm and then the Antonov came immediately and bombed,' Osman whispered."

[full report and data spreadsheet at www.sudanbombing.org]

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

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