A full view of Khartoum’s attack on Bieh: Premeditated cvilian destruction
Eric Reeves | February 25, 2002 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-nb
Additional important details of Khartoum’s helicopter gunship attacks on Bieh last week (February 20) have emerged following the debriefing of humanitarian personnel who witnessed the attack. Two helicopter gunships were deployed in the attack, both of which had flown over Bieh twice earlier in the day; one hovered overhead and conducted careful reconnaissance. The helicopter gunship that directed machine-gun fire and numerous rockets into a crowd of mainly women and children was in a low hover position. The faces of the pilot and gunner could be clearly seen from the ground; the gunner and pilot, in turn, could clearly see that they were firing on noncombatants. It is utterly indisputable that the intention was to kill civilians gathered for food aid and disrupt humanitarian relief in Bieh. Humanitarian sources confirm explicitly that there was no opposition military presence in or near Bieh.
When Sweden’s Lundin Petroleum suspended oil development operations in the area south of Bentiu (Block 5a) last month, it was for the second time in two years. The Khartoum regime seems, as a consequence, bent on destroying all who live in this region, especially those close to Lundin’s elevated all-weather road leading south from Bentiu (epicenter of the oil regions in Western Upper Nile). Thus what distinguishes Bieh is not its terrible fate, but the detail and unimpeachable authority of the reports on the attack. There have been countless other “Bieh’s,” and it is in this context that we are obliged to assess present military ambitions and actions by Khartoum in the oil regions.
At least seventeen civilians, mainly women and children, were killed as they gathered to receive food aid from the UN’s World Food Program; a great many others were injured. Many of these injured have likely died, though this can’t be confirmed following the withdrawal from Bieh of all humanitarian personnel, including Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres and the UN’s World Food Program. A former high-level Western official who was camped near Bieh on an assessment mission at the time of the attack reports that many more casualties were discovered burned to death in the village tukuls.
Other reports, from reliable sources in the field, are arriving daily. All paint the same grim picture of Khartoum concentrating its military efforts, especially its largely invulnerable aerial assets, on civilian targets throughout the oil regions of Western Upper Nile. Activity has been especially intense around Nhialdiu, south/southwest of Bentiu. Hundreds of civilians are reported dead in attacks that have left the town essentially destroyed.
It becomes clearer and clearer that the Khartoum regime has no intention of engaging in the peace process, or meeting the terms set out by US special envoy John Danforth. Talk of peace and the praising words that have come from various quarters have only emboldened Khartoum to seek military advantage. Just today, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement reports a third consequential violation of the Nuba Mountain cease-fire. This diplomatic achievement, the basis for so much international optimism, is now on the verge of collapse because of Khartoum’s refusal to live up to its commitments.
These recent developments make clear that Khartoum’s largest ambitions have nothing to do with peace; they are, rather, to destroy as rapidly as possible the already weakened and displaced civilian populations in the oil regions. This will serve as the basis for “security” in the minds of Khartoum’s military planners. Those nations that wish to seize the present moment to revitalize the peace process must recognize that absent real and concerted pressure on Khartoum, the regime will not begin the difficult process of negotiating a just peace. And if there is no commitment to negotiate peace, the southern opposition will continue its efforts to halt oil development. The “oil war” has become for the Nuer, Dinka and other peoples of the south a war of survival.
Given the powerfully racist attitudes that animate Khartoum’s policies toward the largely Nuer population in the Bieh area and elsewhere in the oil regions, and the Dinka population in other parts of Western Upper Nile, the international community must ask seriously whether Khartoum’s military ambition and actions constitute genocide. Noncombatant populations of the two largest tribal groups in southern Sudan, and the oil regions in particular, are being targeted deliberately because of who they are. The 1948 United Nations Convention of the Prevention and Punishment on the Crime of Genocide declares that:
“Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
[a] killing members of the group;
[b] causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
[c] deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole of in part”
The Nuer and Dinka people of the oil regions of southern Sudan are being destroyed because of who they are—“as such.” That such deliberate, massive civilian destruction—governed by racist attitudes—is supposed to serve as security for international oil companies does not vitiate the relevance of the governing clauses of the Convention on Genocide. If economic or other rationalizations somehow allow for the destruction of “racial groups as such,” then declarations of genocide will have been made disturbingly more difficult—and international responses will be commensurately less urgent.
As the authoritatively reported and fully confirmed attacks on civilians at Bieh, Akuem, and Nimne over the last two weeks reveal all too clearly, the situation is one of extreme urgency. Khartoum is engaged in an all-out, genocidal assault on the peoples of the oil regions in Western Upper Nile. The context in which we must understand these attacks is defined by the extraordinarily detailed and unimpeachably documented attack on Bieh. Helicopter gunships, at very close range, fired machine guns and rockets into a crowd of what were obviously noncombatants—mainly women and children—seeking food aid from the UN’s World Food Program. Such acts—numerous and fully deliberate—together constitute genocide.
Failure to do more than condemn Bieh, no matter how harsh the condemnation, insures that Khartoum will attack elsewhere, choosing in the future sites with no witnesses from international humanitarian organizations. And as attacks like those as Bieh, Akuem, and Nimne continue, threatening international relief operations, there will be fewer and fewer humanitarian personnel deployed to the field.
The National Islamic Front regime must know that if it does not cease immediately in its efforts to destroy the civilian population of the oil regions, if it does not begin immediately in good faith negotiations for a just peace, then the international community will take the necessary steps to halt all oil development.
The alternative to robust economic pressure on Khartoum is the continuation of another African genocide, with Western acquiescence.