As the world watches Khartoum's gathering war with South Sudan, Jared Ferrie
meets the forgotten victims within its own borders
Thursday 26 April 2012
Issa Daffala Sobahi was working as a guard at the home of an opposition
politician in Sudan's Blue Nile state when, last September, government
soldiers came for him. He and the cook saw four cars pull up, bristling with
soldiers. When the cook tried to run, one of them opened fire.
"The only thing I saw after they shot him was blood. Then they threw me on
the ground and handcuffed me," Mr Sobahi says from Bunj, a town in South
Sudan, across the recently created border. It was here he eventually sought
Recalling his detention last year, Mr Sobahi says soldiers beat him on the
way to the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) headquarters in Damazin, the capital of
Blue Nile state, where he was imprisoned. There, he said, he witnessed two
incidents he can't shake from his memory. He saw soldiers try to wrench a
baby from its mother, telling her she wasn't a "real" Muslim and was unfit
to take care of her child. When she resisted, he said, a soldier shot both
Mr Sobahi - who escaped - also watched as soldiers tied two men by their
feet to a vehicle and dragged them around the yard before tying them to a
tree. "They poured gasoline on them and the empty container they put above
them and burned it so the plastic dropped on them," he claimed. "They were
screaming and they died."
Mr Sobahi and hundreds of others were rounded up in a sweep against
suspected rebels in Damazin and other towns in early September. The rebels
were once part of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), which fought
Khartoum in the two-decade civil war that led to South Sudan's independence
When the South seceded last year, two divisions of the movement's armed wing
were left in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. They
amended their name to Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, North (SPLM-N), and
declared themselves a separate political party in Sudan. Fighting broke out
in June in South Kordofan, where Khartoum was accused of rigging an
The conflict spread to neighbouring Blue Nile when Khartoum ousted its
elected governor, Malik Agar, last September, replacing him with a military
Government ministers in Khartoum now accuse their counterparts in South
Sudan of supporting the insurgencies in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
More than 200 people from Blue Nile are still being detained or are missing,
according to lawyers who spoke to Human Rights Watch. In response, Khartoum
said it was holding only 13 rebels.
The SAF also stands accused of killing unarmed civilians. A teacher from the
town of Bau said he saw soldiers gun down 10 residents in December. In
el-Silek village, an SPLM-N official said he found the tortured and executed
bodies of six civilian members of the SPLM-N.
"These alleged crimes constitute violations of human rights law and could
also qualify as war crimes, but further investigation is needed..." said
Jehanne Henry, of Human Rights Watch. Khartoum says it has set up an
independent commission to look into abuses and has found no basis for such
"The government considers the allegations in this case propaganda from the
(rebels) without any evidence," a government official said. The government
is also heavily reliant on aerial bombing using transport aircraft. Often
bombs are simply rolled out of the cargo bay doors, a strategy that violates
international law as the indiscriminate nature of the bombing inherently
puts civilians at risk.
Omar Idris says his village of Yabous Kubri was bombed last September. "I
was with my donkey looking for water. The plane came... It just started
bombing and the donkey was immediately killed and, as you see, I was hurt in
my hand and my chest as well," he said.
A Sudanese government official countered: "Military operations are targeted
at the rebels and their camps, which are mostly in the mountains."
But travelling through the flatlands of southern Blue Nile state tells a
different story. The landscape is pockmarked with craters, villages stand
empty, marketplaces are silent and schools have been shuttered. More than
100,000 people have fled into refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia.
About 100,000 more are stranded inside Blue Nile. Many - including Mr Idris
- live in forests where they cannot be seen from the air.
The government denies the bombing has caused a mass exodus. "The population
density of Blue Nile state is not very high," said a spokesman. Whether that
was true before the war began, it's certainly the case now after seven
months of bombing.
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Received on Thu Apr 26 2012 - 17:25:55 EDT