Just how spectacularly disingenuous is the Khartoum regime of the National Islamic Front? Just how preposterous are the lies this brutal junta will attempt to pass off on the world community in justifying its savage bombing attacks on civilians and humanitarian relief efforts? Clearly stung by the significant media coverage of their deliberate bombing of the town of Akuem (Bahr el-Ghazal Province), and by the condemnation that came in its wake from both the UN’s World Food Program and the US State Department, the National Islamic Front has issued a statement. In it they have the absurd temerity to declare: “‘The government expresses its profound regrets for this deplorable incident which was the result of a technical error and was not a premeditated act,’ the [foreign] ministry said, without elaborating on the ‘technical error'” (Agence France-Press, February 13, 2002).
Eric Reeves [February 14, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
It would be difficult to imagine a more viciously expedient—or more preposterous—lie. For of course this attack was no “technical error”; it was the continuation of a deliberate policy that has seen the town of Akuem bombed four times since May of 2001. This most recent attack killed two children and wounded many more. An attack in November of 2001 was considerably more deadly. Akuem, like so many villages and towns in southern Sudan, has been attacked because it is a vulnerable civilian target. That it is the site of humanitarian efforts by the World Food Program and Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres only makes it more consequential a target in the minds of Khartoum’s military commanders.
Hundreds and hundreds of other deliberate bombing assaults on civilian and humanitarian targets have been confirmed by various humanitarian and human rights organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the US Committee for Refugees, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, the International Rescue Committee and many, many others.
There is no conceivable way these attacks, any of them, can be attributed to “technical error.” Khartoum’s attacking aircraft are retrofitted Russian Antonov cargo planes, from which crude but deadly barrel bombs are manually rolled out the back cargo bays. Sighting and bomb release are no more “technical” than this. Khartoum’s military knew, as it always does in the slow-moving Antonovs, exactly where they were and what they were bombing.
In this case they were guided in part by the flight plans that Khartoum required the World Food Program to file before beginning their flight to the food drop at Akuem. In other words, Khartoum knew just when the World Food Program food drop would occur at Akuem (and thus when there would be the greatest concentration of desperate civilians seeking food). Akuem itself geographically distinguished in a variety of ways (e.g., its proximity to the large town of Aweil, to a major rail line, to the convergence of two rivers). This was no mistake, “technical” or otherwise. It was yet another deliberate aerial attack on innocent civilians and humanitarian relief, with no military justification whatsoever.
What the world community should take away from this tragic event is the understanding that Khartoum can be effectively confronted over its barbaric practices. There is no guarantee that the attacks themselves can be halted without concerted international pressure, and a willingness to attach significant penalties to future war crimes of the sort that took place over Akuem. But the National Islamic Front can be forced to reveal its abject moral poverty—its willingness to lie transparently in defense of indefensible actions.
Those in Canada or Europe assessing the value of “constructive engagement” or “critical dialogue” with the Khartoum regime should keep in mind the bombing of Akuem and the shameful prevarication with which the National Islamic Front has tried to avoid responsibility for this terrible assault on innocent life and the humanitarian spirit. Whether the issue be Khartoum’s participation in the peace process, or its willingness to keep its commitments, Akuem and its aftermath teaches us an essential lesson.
If the Canadian and European governments choose to ignore this lesson and to remain silent in the face of this barbaric act, which egregiously violates international laws and norms, if they choose to believe Khartoum’s preposterous lie, they will have gone some considerable distance further in revealing their own moral bankruptcy in responding to Sudan’s agony.