KHARTOUM, (AFP) — Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on Friday ordered the army to fight in South Kordofan until it has “cleaned” the border state of rebels, in a speech just eight days before the south secedes.
“I ordered the Sudanese Armed Forces to continue their operations in South Kordofan until they clean the state of rebels,” Bashir told the faithful at a mosque in Khartoum during Friday prayers, in a speech broadcast on state television.
Heavy fighting has raged in the embattled northern border state since June 5 between government forces and fighters aligned to the SPLA, the military wing of the ex-rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, ruling party of the south.
The conflict has dramatically escalated tensions between north and south Sudan prior to southern independence on July 9.
Bashir’s speech, just hours after his return from an official visit to China, appears to have destroyed the prospects of peace in South Kordofan that were raised by the signing of a preliminary deal between the Khartoum government and the northern branch of the SPLM in Addis Ababa on Tuesday.
The accord boosted hopes of a comprehensive political and security settlement for the ethnically divided northern states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which are both home to a large number of SPLM supporters.
The violence in South Kordofan erupted after Abdelaziz Hilu, former deputy governor and number two in the northern branch of the SPLM, came close to winning the state’s gubernatorial election in May, before he withdrew alleging fraud.
Bashir called Hilu a “criminal” responsible for the indiscriminate killing of civilians, and said he must face justice.
“Abdelaziz al-Hilu is a criminal and he will continue as a criminal until he faces justice. He has asked everyone who carries a weapon to kill civilians. He cannot return (from the rebellion) as a normal citizen,” the president said.
The United Nations on Thursday reported army air strikes in the rebel stronghold of Kauda, in the Nuba Mountains, that caused “civilian casualties and severe injuries.”
“Aerial bombing was also reported in Talodi on June 25, Kadugli town on June 27 and Umm Durein on June 28. Sporadic gunfire was reported east of Talodi on June 28,” the UN humanitarian office (OCHA) said in its latest report.
The fighting in South Kordofan has so far displaced more than 70,000 people, according to UN estimates.
Church leaders and activists say the army’s campaign forms part of a government policy of ethnic cleansing, targeting the Nuba peoples who fought with the SPLA during its 1983-2005 war with Khartoum, claims the government strongly denies.
The International Rescue Committee said on Thursday that many of the displaced were ethnic Nuba, who were often hiding out in the Nuba Mountains with no access to medical assistance, food and clean water.
“Authorities in South Kordofan are barring international aid agencies from entering the region and supply lines have been cut,” Susan Purdin, director of the IRC’s south Sudan programmes, said in a statement.
“We?re extremely worried about the safety and well-being of people who live there. We?re hearing stories of horrible atrocities.”