KHARTOUM, (AFP) — The Sudanese army and allied forces have carried out systematic attacks on Nuba civilians in South Kordofan that could amount to war crimes, according to an unpublished UN report obtained by AFP.
Violence has swept Sudan’s ethnically divided state since June 5, with the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) battling Nuba militia aligned to the SPLA, the ex-rebel army of the south, in what Khartoum calls a rebellion within its borders that it intends to crush.
But the UN report, the most detailed of its kind to date, documents specific instances where the army allegedly attacked civilians and churches, carried out summary executions, torture and intimidation, and bombed civilian targets in a campaign that it says will “dissipate the Nuba population” if not stopped.
“The acts described in this report, allegedly perpetrated by the SAF, PDF (Popular Defence Force), Central Reserve Police Forces and the Government Police in Southern Kordofan… if proven, may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” it said.
An army spokesman was not immediately available to answer the accusations.
But Khartoum has previously dismissed claims by church leaders and activists that Sudan’s army is pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing in South Kordofan, targeting the state’s indigenous Nuba peoples, many of whom fought with the SPLA during their 22-year war with the central government.
The 19-page report, which was commissioned by members of the UN Security Council and compiled by the human rights arm of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS), was completed late last month, shortly before the mission’s mandate expired on July 8.
“The consequences of (the ongoing aerial) bombardments on the Nuban people and in particular civilians, including women and children, are devastating. They have resulted in significant loss of life, destruction of properties, and massive displacement,” the report said.
“UNMIS Human Rights has received photographs of mangled and mutilated bodies of civilians, some cut into halves, including women and children,” the report added.
The United Nations estimates that the conflict has forced at least 73,000 of people to flee their homes, but the number killed and displaced has been impossible to verify because of the tight restrictions on the movement of UN agencies and NGOs.
The UNMIS report said 37 individual incidents of extrajudicial killings had been confirmed, but indicated that the number could be significantly higher.
“An UNMIS staff member who was detained by SAF at their military facility in Umbattah locality reported during his detention, that he saw… an estimated 150 dead bodies of persons of Nuban descent scattered on the grounds of the military compound,” the report said.
“Some of the bodies appeared to have bullet wounds and he reported a large quantity of blood on the ground. He reported a SAF soldier told them that they had all been shot dead,” it added.
Earlier this week, President Omar al-Bashir vowed to bring political stability and development to the state’s of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which both have large numbers of SPLA supporters.
But the UN humanitarian office on Tuesday reported heavy bombardments and gunfire in different areas of South Kordofan over the previous week, dimming the prospects of a political settlement.
Separately, the UNMIS report said UN military observers feared for their lives when they were stopped, on June 16, while attempting to verify the existence of mass graves in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan.
“(They) were arrested, stripped of their clothes, and believed that they were about to be executed when a senior SAF officer intervened.”
A US monitoring group released new satellite images on Thursday that it claimed supported eyewitness accounts of mass graves being dug near a secondary school in Kadugli, to bury 100 or more people killed last month.
The UNMIS report was based on interviews with victims and witnesses, state and local authorities, security personnel, political, religious and community leaders, displaced people, UN personnel, NGOs and media sources.