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War of northern aggression

"War of northern aggression" Continued...

Issue: "Maximum insecurity," Feb. 23, 2013

Even at that time the UN Mission in Sudan warned of war crimes—targeted attacks on civilians in Nuba, mass graves, burned houses, torched crops, and forced displacement. Sudan’s armed forces and Bashir’s National Congress Party denied the allegations and defended the use of force as a legitimate response to what it called an armed rebellion. Today, said Arman, “The civilian population has been cleared out just like we saw in Darfur.”

Kapila, who served as the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan during that crisis, agrees: “What’s happened over the last two odd years … is basically exactly the same tactics as Darfur except in the interim period the technology of war has improved,” he told the Reuters news service late last month. Attacks in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, starting 10 years ago and leading to the killing or displacement of over 2 million Sudanese, is what led to Bashir’s indictment before the International Criminal Court.

Arman travelled to Washington and New York last month, seeking to renew U.S. and UN engagement on the unfolding crisis. He was joined by Malik Aggar, another longtime leader in the SPLM and also a Muslim. Aggar was the elected governor of Blue Nile state until Bashir’s forces drove him out in 2011.

The two gave briefings on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, and with the president’s National Security advisory staff. In New York they met with European and U.S. diplomats, including the Sudanese-born UN special representative Francis Deng. Their message: Countries that played a significant role in negotiating the 2005 peace agreement, particularly the United States, should follow through on seeing the pact adhered to and strengthened.

“This is not a problem of Nuba and not a problem of Blue Nile. It’s a problem of Khartoum,” Arman told me.

The SPLM-North contingent may win attention from the Obama administration over the humanitarian crisis, but is less likely to engage it on the larger political challenges. 

Bashir appears weak—another aging Arab dictator faced with a stagnant economy and vocal, mounting resentment across Sudan. Washington isn’t looking for another Arab Spring-type revolution. And President Obama hasn’t publicly endorsed such political transitions until they are a fait accompli. But with Islamic insurgencies spreading across Africa’s northern tier, the “northern question” Arman raises for Sudan isn’t going away.

The good news

Outside medical help and buckets of water are crucial ingredients to easing a refugee crisis

PRESSING ON: Sudanese board a truck heading to Batil refugee camp in Maban County, South Sudan
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
PRESSING ON: Sudanese board a truck heading to Batil refugee camp in Maban County, South Sudan

Maban County in South Sudan is just across the border from what’s being called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the ethnic cleansing unfolding in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The county’s two dominant tribes, the Maban and the Uduk, are predominantly Christian, tracing their conversions to mission stations set down by SIM, plus others, starting about 80 years ago. SIM, then operating as Sudan Interior Mission, started a hospital in Maban County at Doro in the 1930s. In recent years it’s been reopened and staffed by SIM workers, along with visiting medical teams.

The challenges to running a hospital in rural South Sudan, where there are no roads or electricity, are daunting enough. But now the county has four refugee camps taking in the displaced from the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and elsewhere. Total population of the camps, according to the latest UN figures: 110,000.

Even so, with the worsening humanitarian crisis come glimmers of good news. Last month aid workers expected 1,000 new refugees from Blue Nile, but only about 300 showed up. Mostly women and children, they arrived in better shape than expected.

Outpatient numbers at Doro are down by half, said a health worker there who is not named for security reasons. That’s largely due to lower-than-usual transmissions of malaria. International aid groups have set up clinics within the camps that are helping to improve what a year ago was a dismal healthcare outlook in the county.

The spiritual outlook is improving, too. Many churches have been planted among the refugee camps. At a recent “baptismal Sunday” service, pastors set up 25 buckets of water beneath the trees. Three men manned each bucket, two with plastic cups and one with a towel. A choir sang, and a pastor preached, and hundreds came forward to the buckets two by two—men and women, boys and girls. When the service ended, church leaders had baptized more than 1,300 refugees. —M.B.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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