2 Jul 2011

Sudan accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in border region

Channel 4 News obtains the first video evidence of Sudanese forces attacking rebels in the Nuba mountains, as the country’s president vows to ‘cleanse’ the region.

Refugees in South Kordofan

Channel 4 News has obtained the first video footage of what critics of the Sudanese government say is a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against members of the country’s Nuba minority.

The pictures show what appear to be civilian victims of air strikes in the Nuba mountain area of Sudan.

One eyewitness, Naheed Nunutu, told Channel 4 News: “The plane came and the bomb fell near my neighbour. She was cut in half. She was pregnant and even her baby came out of her. She was blown to bits.”

Sudan’s president has ordered his troops to continue attacking rebels in the disputed border region, just days before the country is due to split into two independent states.

In a speech broadcast on state television, President Omar al-Bashir said: “I ordered the Sudanese Armed Forces to continue their operations in South Kordofan until they clean the state of rebels.”

The oil-rich state lies on the border of Sudan, the war-torn region of Darfur, the disputed Abyei region and the area that will become the new country of South Sudan on July 9.

Channel 4 News’s International Editor Lindsey Hilsum said there have been reports of dozens of civilians dying in air strikes, attacks by helicopter gunships and soldiers detaining members of the Nuba minority in the region.

Read more: Lindsey Hilsum blogs from south of the Nuba mountains
"People run to the bomb shelters whenever they hear a plane," said a woman I spoke to today. I won't give her name or say exactly where she is, because she fears the consequences of speaking out.
"Last Sunday several bombs hit Kurchi. Five children were killed. One of the mothers asked me: why is our government bombing us?"

On Thursday, the United Nations reported army air strikes in the rebel stronghold of Kauda, in the Nuba Mountains, which caused “civilian casualties and severe injuries.”

Jonathan Hutson from the Enough Project said: “The government of Sudan is engaged in an ethnic cleansing campaign, as it has done previously in Darfur and the disputed region of Abyei.”

Fighting between the northern military and southern-aligned armed groups broke out in Southern Kordofan on June 5 and has escalated to include artillery and air strikes. It has so far displaced around 73,000 people, according to the UN.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said on Thursday that many of the displaced were ethnic Nuba, who were often hiding out in the Nuba Mountains with no access to medical assistance, food and clean water.

We’re extremely worried about the safety and well-being of people who live there. We’re hearing stories of horrible atrocities. Susan Purdin

Susan Purdin, director of the IRC’s southern Sudan programmes, said: “Authorities in South Kordofan are barring international aid agencies from entering the region and supply lines have been cut.

“We’re extremely worried about the safety and well-being of people who live there. We’re hearing stories of horrible atrocities.”

Mr al-Bashir’s statement appeared to quash hopes of a ceasefire between his government in Khartoum and the northern branch of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the former rebels who are now the ruling faction in southern Sudan.

The violence in South Kordofan erupted after Abdelaziz Hilu, number two in the northern branch of the SPLM, came close to being elected governor of the state.
Mr al-Bashir said: “Abdelaziz al-Hilu is a criminal and he will continue as a criminal until he faces justice. He has asked everyone who carries a weapon to kill civilians. He cannot return as a normal citizen.”

The SPLM has rejected the election of Ahmed Haroun, the north’s preferred candidate, as governor of South Kordofan.

Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly mobilising Arab militia to commit genocide against black African residents of Darfur when he was the minister there in 2003-4. President al-Bashir is also wanted on genocide charges.

Church leaders and activists say the army’s campaign forms part of a government policy of ethnic cleansing, targeting the Nuba peoples who fought with the SPLM’s troops during its 1983-2005 war with Khartoum, claims the government denies.

South Sudan voted for independence in 2005 after decades of civil war but both sides have yet to resolve many issues such as sharing oil revenues or assets.