Publisher: the New York Times, USA
Author: By DONATELLA ROVERA
Story date: 20/11/2011
With journalists and outside observers mostly prevented from entering the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile areas of Sudan, it's very difficult to track the developing human rights crisis there. But Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International's Senior Crisis Response Director, recently visited the area, and has provided a rare look from behind enemy lines.
Once again, hundreds of thousands of civilians in Sudan are at risk of being caught in what could be another protracted war. Their own government is terrorizing them through aerial bombing while blocking food, medicine and other humanitarian aid from reaching them. And the situation may get worse unless the United Nations steps in.
Unlike in Somalia, where the famine and aid blockages have gotten the world's attention, the people in this part of Sudan are suffering in virtual obscurity. With aid organizations and independent observers prevented from reaching the population in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, the Khartoum government is largely succeeding in its strategy to keep the world from knowing what is happening.
I witnessed the misery and suffering being inflicted upon the people of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile on a recent trip there.
By blocking aid to civilians, the Sudanese government is taking the same approach it did during the North-South and Darfur conflicts, compounding the suffering of civilians, who are fleeing bombardment by the Sudanese Armed Forces and the fighting between the Sudanese army and the armed opposition, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement North, or SPLM-N.
President Omar al-Bashir's government has blocked essential aid supplies to the region since fighting broke out in June in Southern Kordofan and in September in Blue Nile, regions north of the border with newly established Southern Sudan, but home to the SPLM-N.
The people of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile are terrified, still traumatized by the memory of a 22-year war that ended in 2005 with a peace agreement that led in July to the birth of South Sudan as an independent country.
More than 200,000 have fled their homes and villages in the Nuba Mountains with only the clothes on their backs. They have walked for days to escape the fighting.
They lack everything shelter, food, medicine, clean water and sanitation. The only hospital in the area is desperately short of drugs and supplies. Many of the sick and wounded never even make it to a hospital because there are few vehicles available to take them, road conditions are terrible and gasoline is in short supply.
Last August, I reached the Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan, where I found families who fled the fighting surviving on wild berries and leaves or a handful of the local staple, sorghum, when they can get it. Most people were going hungry then and with almost no supplies getting into the region since, their situation has only gotten worse.
Several people told me their relatives had risked their lives to try to sneak back to their homes — now in areas controlled by the Sudanese armed forces — to try to recover the little food they had left behind from last year's harvest.
Those who have remained in their homes fare little better. Desperately short of food and fearful of the Sudanese army bombardments, they hide in mountain caves and fox holes when they hear Antonov planes circling above.
I saw or heard bombs dropping almost every day when I was there.
These indiscriminate attacks have no military purpose. The bombs are unguided and cannot be aimed at specific military targets. The goal once again is to terrorize civilians scores of whom have been killed in their homes, while tending their land or carrying out other chores.
Awatef Kober, the mother of teenage girls Iqbaal and Maryam, told me that her daughters were killed in an airstrike last June 26 shortly after they had returned from hiding in a cave. She said: "My daughters had gone to fetch water when I heard explosions, and then a neighbor brought the body of Maryam to the house and told me to go to the graveyard because they had taken Iqbaal there."
Thirteen civilians, including five children and three women, were killed in that same airstrike in Kurchi village and more than 20 others were injured.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that some 28,000 residents of Blue Nile, mostly women and children, have crossed the border to seek refuge in neighboring Ethiopia, with 20,000 others sheltering in areas close to the border.
Hunger is a major concern, with food from the last harvest fast running out and this year's harvest expected to be meager because so many farmers fled during the planting season to escape the fighting.
The United Nations must prevent this crisis from getting any worse by pressuring the Sudanese government to immediately open Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile to humanitarian organizations to distribute food and aid.
The United Nations must act now to avert a long-term humanitarian crisis.
Donatella Rovera is Amnesty International's Senior Crisis Response Director.
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