Khartoum’s escalating war on civilians and humanitarian aid in southern Sudan
A series of recent reports from southern Sudan makes clear that Khartoum has settled on a “military” policy of escalating attacks on civilians and humanitarian relief, and of impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid throughout southern Sudan. This strategy is comprised of three key elements:  intensified bombing of civilians and humanitarian relief (vide the UN report on this subject from August 4);  introduction of large surface-to-surface missiles that (like aerial bombings of civilians and relief efforts) lack the requisite accuracy for real military purposes, but have the potential to terrify civilian populations and deter humanitarian relief efforts;  the institution of a new visa requirement for humanitarian aid workers going into southern Sudan from Kenya. The effect of this last policy could be disastrous for the already tenuous efforts of the UN’s humanitarian consortium, and those aid groups working outside the consortium.
Eric Reeves [August 15, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
 A report from the UN’s “Integrated Regional Information Network” (IRIN) recently declared that Khartoum’s “indiscriminate” bombing campaign against civilians in southern Sudan “has resumed its previous intensity” (IRIN, August 4). This bombing has had a devastating effect on southern civil society and agricultural economy. Last summer at this time, the humanitarian organizations working to aid southern Sudan were bombed so relentlessly by Khartoum that all flights of the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan were suspended.
It is a moral disgrace that countries presently “constructively engaged” or entering into “critical dialogue” with Khartoum cannot insist on a halt to this barbaric savagery. If this is not the minimal requirement, then one must wonder just what such words as “constructive” and “dialogue” can possibly mean
 The Guardian (UK) yesterday (August 14) reported that Khartoum has acquired surface-to surface missiles, making good on the regime’s 1999 promise to use oil revenues to make such weapons part of its arsenal. (The story was picked up in a dispatch today [August 15] from the UN’s IRIN.) Further, as The Guardian points out, the acquisition of these missiles “has enormous implications for the war in the South as the government attempts to conquer more and more oil-rich areas for exploration by foreign oil companies.”
The Guardian was able to view videotape taken from a government military photographer killed in a decisive defeat of government troops in southern Blue Nile. The footage shows a “fat, winged missile with a needle-sharp nose mounted on a six-wheel truck at the headquarters of the government’s 17th Division in Dindro, south of the Ingessena hills. As soldiers cry ‘God is great!’, the missile is elevated to an angle of 45 degrees and fired. It explodes away with a deafening roar, leaving a fiery trail high in the sky.”
The Guardian was not able to identify the missile, but John Garang, leader of the SPLA, is reported by the newspaper as saying that “the government force fired eight missiles before trying to advance on the town of Kurmuk on the Ethiopian border. All fell harmlessly in the bush. But they travelled at least 65 kilometers and dug craters seven meters deep.”
Commenting on the new weaponry, Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “The government’s army has not shown, so far, any ability or desire to precisely target military objectives using the less powerful weapons it already has. More powerful weapons in the government’s hands threaten to
cause more civilian casualties and devastation.”
A Western military analyst shown sections of the film said of the missiles:
“These are more of terror weapons against civilian populations than
effective weapons in a conventional war. But the effect of a missile like
this falling on a town would be to clear all [humanitarian] aid missions out.”
 This last is precisely the point of Khartoum’s conduct of the war—and of the third tactic that has recently been confirmed by various highly reliable sources: Khartoum is in the process of implementing an unprecedented requirement that all humanitarian aid workers going into southern Sudan have a visa granted by Khartoum. The multiple effects of this new requirement (it has never been in force, or needed, in the 12-year history of Operation Lifeline Sudan) will be devastating.
Such a visa regime, which provides an exceptionally easy tool of obstruction, would become another way for Khartoum to control humanitarian access to various locations in southern Sudan, even as it now blocks humanitarian flights to any number of locations in the south for no military purpose. More ominously, such a visa regime would supply the Khartoum regime with information that would enhance the targeting of bombing raids on both civilian and humanitarian sites.
It would also enable the formal prosecution of humanitarian aid workers in southern Sudan without visas. And it would have a debilitating effect on the commitment of a number of aid organizations: many, not wanting to become “illegal,” would as a consequence withdraw from Operation Lifeline Sudan, or cease working independently in southern Sudan, as a number of aid organizations now do.
There would be other consequences as well: charter plane companies, whose airlift capacity from northern Kenya is critical, will be frightened off if they face prosecution for bringing “illegal” humanitarian aid workers into southern Sudan. A secondary effect would be to compromise the critically important insurance carriers for relief flights, or perhaps invalidate coverage altogether. Such a visa regime might also be used to harass Sudanese nationals working for humanitarian aid organizations: visa information/requirements might very well be a means for Khartoum to pressure their families.
What is clear is that the aggregate effect of such a visa regime would be to make dramatically more difficult, and in the end substantially reduce, humanitarian assistance to the people of southern Sudan, people who have suffered incomprehensibly during more than 18 years of immensely destructive civil war.
Renewed and intensifying aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets; the deployment of surface-to-surface missiles with great destructive power, though only against civilian and humanitarian targets; and the clamping down on humanitarian aid through the introduction of an unnecessary, unprecedented, and thoroughly contrived visa requirement—all will substantially intensify Khartoum’s war on civilians and its efforts to secure greater military control of the oil regions.
THE INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
So far neither the UN nor donor countries have objected publicly or effectively to the pending visa requirement. The UN’s response has been little more than a stalling effort. Outright condemnation hasn’t come from any quarter.
If Khartoum is able to bomb civilians and humanitarian relief without meaningful response, it will continue to do so. If Khartoum is allowed to deploy surface-to-surface missiles that can wreak terrible civilian havoc and is not met with determined international condemnation, it will use these missiles against innocent human beings. And if Khartoum is successfully able to demand that humanitarian aid workers meet their contrived visa requirements, then we can be sure that humanitarian aid will diminish and that people desperate for that aid will die needlessly of starvation and disease.
If Europe, Canada, and perhaps even the US are willing to countenance such outrageous assaults on civilian life and livelihood—if oil and other economic interests produce the silence of immoral acquiescence—then the people of southern Sudan will utter in deathly silence their sternest rebuke: “You saw vehement hatred and violence directed against us, and you did nothing. You were witness to genocidal destruction in our land, and you turned away.”
The words “Never again!” will have become the emblem of a perverse irony that history, in surveying Sudan’s agony, must record with fierce and unforgiving honesty. There will be no shelter from the judgment that indicts nations, governments, corporations, and all who know and will not act.