LONDON — Were it not for the televised arrest of American actor George Clooney outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington, DC, last Friday, it is doubtful whether anyone in the West would have heard about the plight of Sudan’s Nuba mountain inhabitants.
It is part of what Ashraf Gango, 32, a doctor from the town of Al-Dilling in South Kordofan, calls “Sudan fatigue syndrome.” The world is tired of hearing about the wartorn country; its violence seems endemic to Africa.
Violence erupted in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile last June, shortly before South Sudan declared its independence from the north in July 2011. The Sudanese army began indiscriminately bombing the two states from land and air, burning villages, and killing and raping civilians, copying patterns of attack used in Darfur, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported.
At first, the army focused on members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), an anti-government group that demands the Arab-oriented government in Khartoum stop discriminatory policies against ethnic African states in the south of Sudan. Now the military forces of President Omar Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes against Darfur, are indiscriminately targeting civilians, says Yasir Hamouda, a member of SPLM, who fled South Kordofan in January.
SPLM is now the ruling party of independent South Sudan, which broke off from the north on July 9. The inhabitants of South Kordofan and Blue Nile are ethnic Africans from the Nuba tribes, mostly adherents of Christianity and animist religions. Following the secession of South Sudan, members of SPLM’s armed wing, SPLA-North, held on to their weapons, claiming that local elections were rigged in order for the central government to maintain its grasp over the region.
Hamouda claims that the government’s war against South Kordofan and Blue Nile is punitive, a hostile message toward a population that supported the secession of South Sudan last year. He insists that Bashir is perpetrating ethnic cleansing, not a religious war, since the previous victims of Khartoum — the inhabitants of Darfur — are predominantly Muslim.
Last July, the Satellite Sentinal Project at Harvard University reported that it identified eight mass graves outside Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan. Satellite images detected a cluster of white plastic body bags near two new graves; and the images were corroborated by eyewitness accounts. The local Red Cross and Red Crescent have also reported collecting dead bodies in Kadugli and requesting additional body bags and tarps for the task.
Photos emerging from southern Sudan reveal munitions with Persian inscriptions on them. An Iranian-made drone was shot down by rebel forces on March 14, according to opposition sources.
“The Sudanese government is literally getting away with murder, and trying to keep the outside world from finding out,” Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, said last August. “The international community… must stop looking the other way and act to address the situation.”
Each of the Sudanese expats living in London has his own horror story. Dr. Sallam Tutu, a human rights activist with the Nuba Mountain Solidarity Abroad group, says his family home in Kadugli was plundered and razed by government forces. His 70-year-old mother fled to the nearby mountains where she hid for three months, before escaping north, to the capital.
Ashraf Gango’s colleague at the hospital in Kadugli was dragged out of his ward and shot dead last June for belonging to the SPLA. Gango, who has been away from Sudan since 2007, says he jumps every time the phone rings from Sudan.
“I am very saddened by what is happening. I have seen some brutal pictures from my region,” he says.
The men harshly criticize the role of the United Nations in their region. They say the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), mostly composed of Egyptian nationals, offered no help while their people were arrested and killed just outside the UN compound near Kadugli.
“The UN is useless,” says Gango. “The Egyptian peacekeeping force stood by and did nothing while civilians were killed just outside the UN compound.”
Hamouda, more diplomatic, says the contingent is “not neutral.” He claims that government forces have even used UN helicopters and trucks in their operations against Sudanese civilians.
No comment was available from the United Nations at time of publication.
As a tactical remedy for the government’s aerial bombardments, the Sudanese refugees demand a no-fly zone over the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. But when it comes to their strategic demands, opinions differ. Ideas of uniting with South Sudan, achieving independence or forming a confederation with the South are all thrown into the air. They all agree that no progress can be made with the current government in Khartoum, led by Omar Bashir.
“There must be regime change,” says Gango. “With the current regime there can be no hope for peace.”
The mention of Israel lights a glimmer of hope in the eyes of Hamouda. He says that he recently tried to meet with Israeli representatives while in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, but was politely put off.
“We believe Israel can help us because you suffered discrimination. You suffered the Holocaust,” he says. “Israel has the power to push the international community to act. We would like to reach the people [of Israel], not just the government.”
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