12 Apr 2012

New Sudan, but the same old violence

The birth of a new nation has not dispelled the old ways of violence in South Sudan, writes Lindsey Hilsum.

(Pictured: A boy holds his model of an Antonov airplane that the Sudanese Armed Forces are using to bomb civilians)

Last June, the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence from the north. The ceremony in the southern capital, Juba, was chaotic but fun – at one point I thought I might collapse with the heat, but the compensation for such discomfort was the joy of the people around me and the pride that South Sudanese were taking in the birth of their nation.

Yet the shadow was already there. The Nuba Mountains, a region in the borderlands between north and south, had ended up by default on the northern side of the new frontier. Yet the people there, the Nuba, resented northern rule. They said recent re-elections had been rigged, and Khartoum had imposed its candidate as governor. Rebels associated with the guerrillas who had fought for the independence of the south had taken up arms against the government in Khartoum, which was responding by bombing the Nuba Mountains.

Tomorrow, Channel 4’s Unreported World carries a remarkable report from the Nuba Mountains. It makes for uncomfortable viewing. We see a school assembly in a field. The children are singing a hymn about the “New Sudan” when suddenly they scatter and run to the caves nearby. They have heard the buzz of an Antonov overhead, and that means bombing. Families are living in cracks between rocks; others have dug foxholes to hide in when the bombers come. The region’s sole hospital has 80 beds and 500 patients, many with horrific shrapnel wounds. The only surgeon has to amputate children’s arms and legs. Another doctor warns that starvation is nigh – the people have been unable to cultivate for nearly ten months.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s happened before. It’s Darfur all over again. Having “lost” South Sudan in last year’s referendum, President Omar al-Bashir is determined that no other part of his diminished country should split away. The Nuba are being punished for resisting northern rule.

It’s very difficult to get food and medical aid into the Nuba Mountains, as the area is surrounded by Sudanese territory. President Obama has authorised money to help refugees, but only a few are able to get away. The rest are cowering amongst the rocks, forgotten victims of a war few outside know is going on.

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