Khartoum’s May 22, 2002 bombing attack on civilians at Rier has now come more clearly into focus. Geographical confusion over which “Rier” was attacked has been resolved; more consequentially, the terrible casualty figures continue to rise. We also know that Rier was a relief center, of the sort critically important for the tens of thousands of displaced persons in the oil regions. Detailed confirmation of the devastating nature of the attack has already come from Norwegian People’s Aid, and will soon be forthcoming from journalists who have flown to the location. A senior US aid official is reported to have witnessed the ghastly evacuation process: in addition to the 15 now confirmed dead, the number of wounded stands at 95, 35 of them in critical condition. Many more will surely die. Rier, like Bieh to the east, was a humanitarian relief center; this likely accounts for the particularly large number of casualties from the bombing. Tragically, Rier was also proximate to oil development operations: this accounts for its being targeted.
Eric Reeves [May 24, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
The Rier attacked on May 22 is not the village near the oil road south of Bentiu, but rather a village of the same name that lies approximately 25 miles south of Talisman Energy’s new center of activity in oil concession Block 4 (Kaikang). Though it does not show up even on detailed maps of Western Upper Nile, the Rier attacked by Khartoum’s Antonov bombers is about 10 km southeast of Mankien, in Mayom County—this according to experienced aid workers in the region. A French journalist who traveled to Rier in the immediate wake of the bombing attack will soon be providing photographic evidence of the horrific human destruction, all too characteristic of Khartoum’s war on civilians in the oil regions.
For now—in addition to wire reports from Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and Associated Press—we have the descriptions from Norwegian People’s Aid (May 22, 2002 and May 23, 2002), a humanitarian relief organization not part of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS). Norwegian People’s Aid has conducted relief operations into Rier at great risk in order to serve the southern people who have been so cruelly denied all OLS humanitarian relief by Khartoum (the National Islamic Front regime has repeatedly imposed humanitarian flight bans on all of Western Upper Nile as part of its scorched-earth/depopulating war in the oil regions). Norwegian People’s Aid reports:
“[The attack on Rier occurred on] Tuesday, May 22, 2002 at 2.00 a.m. People were sleeping and therefore taken unawares. The Antonov dropped 16 bombs in total – 8 in one location and 8 nearby. Eleven people were killed on the spot and 35 seriously wounded. The situation is described as carnage, with bodies lying everywhere—legs and arms blown off. Most of those wounded were young boys aged 10 and 11 years.
“The number of those killed is rising—reported now to be 15 killed.
NPA [Norwegian People’s Aid] was there eleven hours after the attack to treat and evacuate the wounded. 24 people were evacuated yesterday. More wounded (79) have been evacuated today. The most serious cases have been taken to NPA in Equatoria. The extent of the carnage has made it difficult to cope. Even the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] hospital in Lokichoggio has been overwhelmed by number of casualties.”
“Independent witnesses around the spot to verify the accuracy of the report are two journalists, one French photographer and an East African reporter were there after the attack. A senior US aid official witnessed the evacuation and have seen for the first time the extent of the damage.”
“It is important to note that these attacks were behind of the frontlines and also the timings were particularly brutal, catching people (unawares) while they were sleeping. NPA staff on ground described as brutal with bodies littered everywhere. Staff and journalists were totally shocked at what they saw. Reports and pictures will follow.”
Norwegian People’s Aid issued the following report yesterday (May 23, 2002):
“The total number of wounded is 95 out of which 35 are serious cases with legs and arms blown off. The number of dead is 15 and this figure is bound to rise.”
“The GOS have also bombed the village of Tam today (south of Mayom). Please expect details of this latest bombardment within the same area as soon as they are available.”
In addition to the bombing of Tam on May 23, 2002, relief workers in Lokichokio (Kenya) report that Khartoum bombed the village of Lil (a few miles from Touc, also in Western Upper Nile) on May 21, 2002, killing another 17 people.
Dan Eiffe, Norwegian People’s Aid spokesman, said of the Rier attack that “it is one of the most brutal and horrific attacks ever in southern Sudan” (Reuters, May 24, 2002). Even so, it is difficult to call these aerial assaults an escalation of Khartoum’s war on civilians in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile, just as there was nothing out of character in the attack on civilians at Bieh (in which Khartoum’s helicopter gunships fired heavy machine guns and rockets into thousands of civilians gathered at a UN World Program center). These savage attacks on civilians and humanitarian relief are part of an all too obvious military strategy: destroy or displace the civilian populations in the oil regions in order to secure operations for oil companies like Talisman Energy.
The report of Special Envoy John Danforth speaks of being “encouraged” by the agreement reached with Khartoum and the SPLA/M concerning attacks on civilians. The terrible realities of Rier make it difficult to understand how we should be “encouraged” by an agreement (now two months old) that has not been implemented and shows no sign of being implemented in meaningful fashion, at least in the foreseeable future.
Sudan doesn’t need words of “encouragement”; it needs forceful action by the international community to halt the barbaric attacks by Khartoum on innocent civilians. Central to such action will be a concerted effort to halt oil development pending the negotiation of a just peace. Without such commitment, we may expect to read continually of young children dying or surviving without arms or legs, in the midst of a desolate land bereft of humanitarian aid and hope.