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The shadow of Darfur looms over Southern Kordofan

KHARTOUM – The continuing violence in Southern Kordofan leaves many wondering if a Darfur-like scenario is inevitable.

The specter of violence in Southern Kordofan has led to comparisons with Darfur.
© AFP \ Getty images \ Ashraf al-Shazely

Several parties have warned of dire consequences if the Khartoum government doesn’t step in to stop repeated attacks in Southern Kordofan. Some have gone as far as to describe the violence as “ethnic cleansing.”

What many in the international community refer to as genocide in Darfur has led the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to issue a warrant for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir, who is suspected of war crimes.

A destroyed building in the town of Kauda after aerial bombardments on June 23.         Photo by Tomo Kriznar
Now observers wonder if the same accusations will apply in Southern Kordofan. A new UN report mentions summary executions and aerial bombardments, while satellite photographs recently released suggest the presence of mass graves in the region.

Evidence based on violent incidents reported in the region of el-Faid Umm-Abdullah during May’s gubernatorial campaign, as well as recent events in neighbouring Umm-Beir, would suggest the ICC could make another case for war crimes in Southern Kordofan.

According to citizens’ testimony in that area, the Khartoum government had armed a branch of the Arab al-Hawazma tribe, who attacked unarmed Nuba civilians on 15 June.

“The militia of al-Hawazma was armed by the government days before its attack against unarmed citizens who have no affiliation to any political side,” said a high school teacher. “(The militia) killed a number of them and attacked others who were preparing for a wedding in the village.”

According to the teacher, panicked villagers escaped to the towns of al-Abyad and al-Rahd after the militia burned down a number of their houses. Others sought refuge in Khartoum or fled to the mountains for fear of any possible future assaults.  

Women and children seeking shelter.    Photo by Tomo Kriznar

The teacher insisted he knows the identity of the attackers, adding that “these events happened under the eyes and ears of the police and army forces present in the region.”

That leads to the suspicion, he concluded, that “this militia has assaulted people at the behest of the government, which thought forces of the [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] were there.”

These events may be isolated and uncoordinated. It is possible that the attackers took advantage of prevailing insecurity in the area to launch attacks to settle old scores.

“The government cannot get involved in a repeat of the Darfur scenario now that it’s reached the Hague,” said Salah al-Domah, political science professor at Umm-Dorman Islamic University.

Al-Domah, who is from Darfur, said the government has no difficulty in controlling Southern Kordofan, “so it doesn’t need Arab militia to help it fight the Nuba.”   

On the other hand, the attacks are likely to be related, since they have been repeated in the area.

“The Arabs in the region were brought there with the colonisers in the beginning of the last century,” said Hafez Ismail Muhammad, head of Justice Africa, a London-based advocacy organization. “Ever since, they’ve sought opportunities to exploit Nuba lands.”    

Rebels of the Nuba SPLA led by Abdelaziz Al-Hillu. Photo by Tomo Kriznar

SPLM Vice President Riek Machar warned against ethnic cleansing during his recent meeting with Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He has appealed to the international community to intervene.  

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (IGC) had warned of a Darfur scenario in Southern Kordofan in a report published in November 2008.

Titled “Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: the Next Darfur?” the report urged the government in Khartoum to stop arming Arab tribes against the ethnic Nuba. The ICG also asked the UN international forces in Sudan to play a greater role in protecting civilians.

Nearly three years later, the situation has drastically deteriorated. About 70,000 people have been displaced, and unknown numbers have been killed.

Although the UN recently approved the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeeping troops to Southern Kordofan, none have yet arrived.

Editor: Alexa Dvorson

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of the publishers of

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