War in Sudan: the Kerry connection
Conflict has driven over 100,000 people from their homes. Hungry and still under threat, the weaker do not make it to safety. Are Irish components playing a role in a vicious military campaign?
UNDER A BLAZING sun, scores of starving women and children walk the dry plains of the Nuba Mountains in Sudan’s war-torn state of South Kordofan. They are among 100,000 Nubians who have fled to the newly independent neighbour of South Sudan over the past year, driven from their homes by intense fighting between the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) and the Sudanese armed forces. The week-long journey is an arduous one that the weaker often do not survive.
Since the war resumed in June 2011, after a failed attempt by Khartoum to disarm the population, bombing raids by Sudanese army warplanes are a daily occurrence in the Nuba Mountains. Villages have been destroyed and the people, largely dependent on farming, are unable to cultivate their land. Most have been forced to seek refuge in caves and rocky shelters in the hills, surviving on a diet of leaves, wild fruits and insects. Aid organisations across the border say some are starting to die from hunger, and the situation is expected to worsen with the advent of the rainy season. Every day about 700 people arrive at Yida refugee camp, 10km inside South Sudan. Khartoum doesn’t authorise aid agencies to operate in the affected areas.
Ahmed Tia, the commissioner of Buram county, accuses the Khartoum government of using hunger as a weapon. “Since the war started, the people have been terrified. They are living in caves. There’s no way to grow anything or graze our cattle. There’s nothing left here,” he says as he points to a bowl of boiled leaves and grass a family is about to have for their meal.
The SPLM-N says the Sudanese army, through its aerial bombardment, is trying also to prevent people from growing crops from which profits could be used to support the insurgency that has fanned out across the restive states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. They note that the same tactic was used by Khartoum almost a decade ago in Darfur.
People here fear what comes from the sky. The Sudanese army is using Antonov aircraft loaded with bombs, Sukhoi attack jets and helicopter gunships. Children have grown to recognise the roaring sound of the engines overhead, and “Antonov” has became part of their vocabulary. As soon as the sound is audible in the distance, villagers panic and run to shelter in caves dotted throughout the nearby hillsides. Because so many of their relatives and neighbours have died or been seriously injured in recent months, the people feel they cannot take any chances. “Usually when a drone passes overhead, around 20 minutes later the bombing begins,” says Jacob William Idris, a local SPLM-N fighter.