“Khartoum Escalates Its Campaign of Aerial Terrorism”
In the ten days since the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime in Khartoum withdrew from the peace talks at Machakos (Kenya), government aerial attacks on civilian targets have escalated dramatically. There has been an increase in the number of bombings, as well as a more relentless focus on purely civilian targets. Today the town of Lui was bombed at 12:45pm local time. Lui—site of an important hospital, and of no military significance—is well to the northwest of Juba, whereas the contested town of Torit lies to the southeast of Juba. Three days ago Yabus in Southern Blue Nile was bombed, killing two children and wounding a number of others. Yabus is also far from the military front line. The captured town of Torit has been bombed relentlessly and indiscriminately. This is the real meaning of NIF president Omar Bashir’s declaration that, “I gave the army a free hand to move out in all directions, to use all of its weapons, with no restraints, no restrictions, whatsoever” (Agence France-Presse, September 3, 2002).
Eric Reeves [September 12, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
In yet another instnce of spectacular hypocrisy, the National Islamic Front foreign ministry declared on the occasion of September 11th memorials that it offered “condolences” to the American victims of terrorism. But there were no words about the southern Sudanese victims of Khartoum’s own state-run campaign of aerial terrorism. The closest Khartoum came to the truth in its statement was the declaration that, “terrorism is indivisible and jeopardizes international peace and security” (Agence France-Presse, Sept 12, 2002). But if this is true, then the international community should be actively engaged in halting what is clearly terrorism in the form of attacks on civilians and humanitarian relief efforts by very high-flying Antonov bombers (actually retrofitted cargo planes from which crude but deadly shrapnel-loaded barrel-bombs are rolled out the back cargo bay).
Sources from the region report that at 12:45pm the town of Lui was bombed by an Antonov making two passes and dropping four bombs. Lui, site of an extremely important hospital run by Samaritan’s Purse, has no military significance whatsoever (it was last attacked in December 2000). Lui has the only hospital for an estimated 400,000 people, with patients often walking as long as fifteen days for medical care. There are no structures in Lui except the hospital, a church (damaged in the December 2000 attack), a school, and tukuls.
Attacks on Lui are nothing more that deliberate acts of civilian destruction and terrorizing. Lui is far removed from the military front lines, and has nothing to do with any military effort by Khartoum to recapture Torit (the loss of which was the regime’s expedient excuse for withdrawing from the Machakos peace talks). This bombing is terrorism—state-sponsored, state-funded, and state-executed.
Similarly, Yabus in Southern Blue Nile was bombed heavily on September 9. According to aid organizations working in the Yabus areas and the SPLM, ten bombs were dropped, killing two children (ages four and seven) and wounding eight. This extension of the bombing to Yabus is revealing on several counts. The airport at Yabus is critical to the work of the very few aid organizations willing to work in this remote part of Sudan. If the airport is destroyed or rendered too dangerous, humanitarian aid will likely be halted or severely restricted. This is but another form of terrorism.
Yabus was the first town captured by the SPLA in Southern Blue Nile in 1996, but the military front line is now well to the west near Boing. Clearly Khartoum’s point in bombing Yabus was to make the point that there is no civilian region that is safe in Southern Blue Nile, and that no humanitarian efforts in the region are safe or beyond the reach of Khartoum’s bombers. Civilians in what had been a relatively safe region (safe enough to serve as a magnet for other displaced persons) are now deliberately being terrorized.
And since Southern Blue Nile lies at the heart of the difficult geographical issues to be negotiated at Machakos (indeed, the line dividing northern and southern Sudan is likely to be one of the very most contentious issues, if good faith negotiations should resume), Khartoum is now doing its “negotiating” over geography by the cruelest of military means.
In addition to the bombings of Yabus and Lui, Khartoum has relentlessly bombed the town of Torit, whose capture by the SPLA has been used expediently by the regime as a pretext for withdrawing from the Machakos talks. But even this bombing, given its thoroughly indiscriminate nature, is much more about terrorizing the civilians in Torit than inflicting military damage on the SPLA. The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on September 10, citing media reports and SPLA/M accounts, the extremely heavy bombardment of the town on September 9:
“SPLA spokesman Samson Kwaje told IRIN there had been no ‘significant’ casualties in the town, although, he said, a total of 100 bombs had been dropped on it during Monday’s raid. ‘They destroyed and flattened buildings, but there were no significant casualties, even in the civilian quarters.'”
All evidence available suggests that the Antonov bombing attacks originate in El Obeid, site of Khartoum’s major forward military air base and also the site of a 10,000-barrel/day refinery. All the aviation fuel for the bombing missions is refined at El Obeid. Moreover, it is important to note that the refinery receives its entire crude oil capacity from the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company. The companies in the consortium—Talisman Energy of Canada, Petronas of Malaysia, and China National Petroleum Corp.—are thus all complicit in the fueling of these terrorist aerial assaults. (For a variety of logistical reasons, it is extremely unlikely that the Antonov flights originate in Juba, though Juba certainly serves as a base for helicopter gunships used in attacks in Equatoria.)
These attacks on civilians are precisely the sort of outrage that were to have been investigated by a monitoring commission, negotiated last March by US special envoy for Sudan John Danforth. In his July Senate testimony, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner gave late August as the time-frame for deployment of the monitoring force. It is now mid-September and there are no signs that actual monitoring is set to begin.
Just how serious is the State Department about this issue? And how serious is the rest of the world about terrorism when the victims are black and poor and invisible to the news media? The Khartoum regime in Sudan continues to provide all too telling a test case—and the international community is failing badly.