July 7th, 2011 by Tom Andrews
“Churches have been looted and a Catholic church is now being used by the military to conduct operations. We need the international community to save the people of the Nuba mountains.”
This is what we heard today when we met with two Episcopal priests from the besieged city of Kadugli, South Kordofan. They both escaped to Juba – one two weeks ago and the other in June – after being targeted by Sudanese government backed forces in South Kordofan’s Nuba mountains. They told stories of how the Khartoum regime’s actions – tightening its blockade of food, water, medicine, humanitarian aid and now fuel to South Kordofan’s Nuba mountains – is creating a humanitarian catastrophe that, if not stopped, could claim thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lives.
According to the priests, more than one million men, women and children are already being impacted by the government blockade and conditions are becoming desperate. They had just spoken to a colleague in Nuba who had climbed a mountain so that he could call in a report from his mobile phone. Their colleague reported that military operations are intensifying and that supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel have dropped to dangerous levels. By preventing the cultivation of desperately needed crops in the critical rainy season, the violence will extend the humanitarian crises while making the people of South Kordofan even more dependent on access to food from outside their borders.
Bloomberg News is reporting today that President Bashir has quit talks in Ethiopia over Southern Kordofan and that the UN is reporting heavy gunfire and bombardments around the capital, Kadugli with helicopter gunships “engaged in offensive air operations” west of the capital city.
But President Bashir is using more than military arms to attack the people of Nuba. According to the priests, conditions are becoming desperate as fuel runs out. Their colleague reported from Nuba that grain can no longer be ground into flour, making the food shortage worse. “They are using food and humanitarian relief as a weapon,” the priests explained.
In a meeting with us this afternoon at his Juba headquarters, the Secretary General of the Sudan Council of Churches, Rev. Ramadan Chan Liol, called for the international community to come to the aid of the victims in Nuba before it is too late. “There must be an international intervention”, he said. The Episcopal priest from Nuba told us: “We need the international community to save the people of the Nuba mountains.”
In just two days, Susan Rice, the US envoy to the United Nations will lead the US delegation to the ceremony marking South Sudan’s independence. She will be joined by, among others, former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Sudan’s president, indicted war criminal and leader of the civilian attacks on the Nuba, Omer al-Bashir, will join them on the stage.
Ambassador Rice today released a statement condemning Bashir’s brutality. We need to see these strong words matched by action. The administration can begin by announcing tough economic sanctions against Bashir and his cronies; issuing a call for an international investigation of the crimes against civilians that are being committed every day in Sudan; and declaring support for a strong UN protection force to save the lives of those who are being targeted by the regime.
Condemnation without action has continued to be met with more attacks, more death and growing desperation in South Kordofan as Bashir tightens the noose of his brutal blockade. Ambassador Rice and other American dignitaries traveling to Juba for Saturday’s historic event have an opportunity to stand up to Bashir’s violence. They can also take the opportunity to sit down with some of those – like the priests we met with today – who have been forced to flee South Kordofan and can bear witness to the horrors unfolding there. They would learn a lot including what is at stake in South Kordofan and how desperately important it is to act before it is too late.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of STAND.