U.S. lawmaker accuses Sudan of new ‘ethnic cleansing’ as rebels claim attack on army

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A U.S. congressman pleaded early Tuesday for action to bring food to thousands in Sudan’s South Kordofan state, accusing the Khartoum government of new “ethnic cleansing” after a visit to the region, as Sudanese rebels said they killed 150 army troops along the disputed border with the South.

rebel groups in Sudan said they had captured a Sudanese army garrison near the border with the South.

Representative Frank Wolf said he went last week to the Yida refugee camp across the border in newly independent South Sudan and heard accounts of aerial attacks, arbitrary shootings and severe lack of food in South Kordofan.

Wolf showed to a Washington news conference videotaped interviews he conducted with women at the camp who said that Sudan’s mostly Arab forces targeted them for rape and other abuses because they were black and Christian, according to AFP.

“Clearly, ethnic cleansing is familiar territory for Khartoum,” said Wolf, a longtime critic of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted for alleged war crimes in the separate conflict in Darfur.

“Bottom line -- Bashir is using food as a weapon. We are quickly reaching a time when mere statements will prove wholly insufficient. If Khartoum persists in barring international access to these regions, there will be devastating consequences,” said Wolf, a Republican from Virginia.

South Sudan became independent in July following decades of war. U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, welcomed Sudan’s quick recognition of the new state and initially showed willingness to start reconciliation with Sudan.

Voicing alarm

But the Obama administration voiced alarm after conflict broke out soon afterward in South Kordofan and nearby Blue Nile state, with Khartoum fighting insurgents once allied to the former rebels who now rule South Sudan.

The U.N. estimates that more than 500,000 people have been displaced. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has warned that food shortages would become critical in March and urged the world body to consider unspecified “options” if deliveries cannot come in by then.

Sudan has rejected any plan for an aid corridor without involvement by its government organizations, saying that supplies could go to rebels.

Wolf urged the Obama administration to make a decision quickly on food, warning that an upcoming rainy season would complicate potential efforts to bring in food by land.

Pressure groups have said that frequent raids by Sudanese planes made it impossible to plant crops in South Kordofan, triggering the food shortages in a state covered by the Nuba mountains.

After remaining mostly off the radar screen in the United States, the situation in South Kordofan has begun to gain attention with prominent journalists from The New York Times and NBC News recently reporting there.

“We remember the tragedy of Darfur. It was only when hundreds of thousands of people began to die that the world took notice and took action,” said Tom Andrews, head of the Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition pressure group.

“The question now is, how many are going to be required to die in the Nuba mountains before we take the requisite action?” he said.

Wolf said that the United States should bar funding to any country that welcomes Bashir. He pointed to Malawi, which welcomed Bashir in October despite the arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.

The United States committed $350 million to Malawi’s energy sector under the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an initiative to assist developing countries that commit to standards on democracy and basic rights.

Washington put the grant on hold in July last year after Malawi cracked down on street protests.

Tension mounts

Meanwhile, Sudanese rebels said Tuesday they killed 150 government soldiers along the disputed border with South Sudan in a battle that prompted Khartoum to threaten retaliation against its newly independent neighbor.

Sudan’s military denied the casualty toll and said it had killed a “huge number” of rebels, but gave no figure, according to AFP.

The casualties came during Sunday’s “surprise attack” against a government base in the Jau area, said Arnu Ngutulu Lodi, of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).

Rebels counted the bodies on the ground, he said, and seized three tanks along with hundreds of weapons and vehicles in the joint operation with a small number of fighters from Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

The insurgents, who last year formed a “revolutionary front” aimed at toppling the Khartoum regime, claimed the attack in the contested Jau area -- part of an oil-rich region on the poorly defined border -- as their first combined operation against government forces.

The newly formed rebel umbrella group Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) said its forces were behind the assault on the military post around Lake Obyad, which lies near the boundary.

The SRF was formed last year between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), who operate in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), based in Darfur in the west of Sudan.

“It is a victory, the first victory under the umbrella of the SRF to have two forces fighting together,” SRF spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi told Reuters by telephone.

The SPLM-N’s fighters fought alongside the forces of what is now the South’s ruling SPLM during Sudan’s civil war that ended with a peace deal in 2005 and led to southern secession in 2011.

The SPLM-N says it cut ties with the South after independence, but Khartoum accuses Juba of continuing to provide military and financial support to the rebels.

According to Lodi, the SRF captured hundreds of machine guns, dozens of heavy artillery and 200 vehicles from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), although he said it was too early to provide a number of casualties from either side.

Both countries trade accusations of supporting insurgents in each other’s territory. Tensions have also mounted in a dispute over how much Juba should pay Khartoum to export its oil.