LONDON (Reuters) - A former senior U.N. official has accused Sudan’s government of launching a genocidal campaign against non-Arab villagers in an oil-producing border region, by bombing civilians and using tactics reminiscent of the country’s Darfur conflict.
Sudan’s government dismissed the charges on Sunday saying there was no campaign to target civilians or people from specific ethnic groups during ongoing fighting with rebels in South Kordofan.
Mukesh Kapila, who was one of the first in the United Nations to raise the alarm about Darfur in 2004 and is now a rights activist, told Reuters he had evidence the government was committing crimes against humanity in South Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains area.
Kapila, special representative for the Aegis Trust, said he had seen government planes targeting non-Arab villagers and burning crops to force them from their land during his visit to South Kordofan from February 28 to March 2. “I had a great sense of deja vu, as if I was back in Darfur in 2004 when I was the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator,” he told Reuters in an interview in London on Thursday.
“This is a chronic sore - it (Sudan) hosted the first genocide of the century in Darfur, and the second one is unfolding in Nuba,” he said.
Sudan denied bombing civilians or making any attempt to force any group out of the area. It also said it was not arming militias to fight its battles or discriminating between ethnic groups there.
“What is now going on in South Kordofan is actually a contention between government forces and forces supported by the Southern government,” Rabie Abdelati, spokesman of the Sudanese information ministry told Reuters, referring to newly independent South Sudan.
“It is not our policy to support or encourage any militia or ethnicity. Actually our tactic is to preserve the unity of our people in all parts of Sudan,” he added.
Sudan has repeatedly dismissed accusations that its campaign that started in 2003 to crush a separate rebellion by largely non-Arab rebels in its arid Darfur region amounted to genocide.
“THE GROUND IS BLACK” Thousands of civilians fled a surge in fighting in South Kordofan that started last year, pitting government troops and allied militias against rebels, many from the state’s non-Arab Nuba group. South Kordofan borders Darfur, and also South Sudan, which split away as an independent country in July as part of a peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the Khartoum government. Many people in South Kordofan, particularly among the Nuba, had sided with the south during the civil war but were left on the Sudanese side of the border after the split.
Sudan’s government has accused South Sudan of backing the region’s rebels to disrupt border areas and to try to take control of oil fields there, charges denied by South Sudan.
Kapila said he had seen evidence that Sudanese troops were destroying crops in the Nuba Mountains. “You walk around and the ground is black. Some of that is seasonal burning in time for planting, but the vast tracts as a result of the bombing. This is to stop people from planting.”
Asked if the tactics amounted to ethnic cleansing, Kapila replied: That’s what we saw. This has to do with the nature of the targeting - it’s not being indiscriminate, it’s targeting.”
Kapila told journalists in 2004 that pro-government Arab militias were carrying out systematic killings reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide - referring to the 1994 massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu groups in Rwanda.
Khartoum dismissed his statement but Washington and many activists groups went on to describe the Darfur violence as genocide.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and other senior officials, to face charges of orchestrating genocide in Darfur, charges he dismisses.
The United Nations, together with other aid and activist groups, have already condemned the recent violence in South Kordofan.
But Kapila called on the United Nations to take tougher action over the latest crisis.
“I have prima facie evidence of crimes of humanity being committed. This should be admitted as providing sufficient grounds for a direct investigation by competent authorities internationally, which is the (U.N.) Security Council,” he told Reuters.
“We need a proper Security Council investigation and if Sudan denies that, then that is proof enough that there is something to hide.”
Reporting By Ethan Bilby; Editing by Andrew Heavens