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Conflict

The forgotten war in Sudan

Since mid-2011, a conflict in the south of Sudan has been smoldering between government troops and rebels, largely ignored by international press. The African Union is calling for dialogue.

Since mid-2011 human rights organizations have been denouncing the attacks of the Sudanese arm on civilians in the province of South Kordofan and have spoken of "ethnic cleansing." African media has been reporting of bomb attacks by the Sudanese air force. The most recent reports, at the beginning of February, said a school building was hit and 17 people were killed.

"The north Sudanese army is still trying to conquer this region and occupy it," said Raphael Veicht from Cap Anamur, a German relief organization. For four years, he has been responsible for healthcare provision in South Kordofan and neighboring province, Blue Nile. There are airstrikes almost daily and now, in the dry season, there is fighting on the ground, he told DW.

The African Union demanded the Sudanese government to go into talks with the rebels - the ultimatum ended on Friday (15.02.2013). The United States also called on Khartoum to negotiate with the rebels.

Experts have said Sudan is interested in the oil reserves in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Tension has run high along the border of Sudan and South Sudan since the south's secession and independence in July 2011. In April 2012, tensions almost escalated to a war.

Tensions on the border

South Kordofan and Blue Nile are in southern of Sudan, on the border with South Sudan. Originally, the provinces were supposed to hold a consultations to decide whether to remain part Sudan or become part of the newly independent South Sudan. Such consultations have not taken place.

Raphael Veicht at work in northern South Sudan
Photo: Cap Anamur,

Raphael Veicht at work in South Sudan

"Because the people in the Nuba Mountains felt that they were not being represented adequately by the government in Khartoum, they decided again to rebel," said Ernst Jan Hogendoorn from think tank International Crisis Group.

The rebels fighting the government call themselves the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) - it is an offshoot of the SPLM, which fought for the independence of South Sudan in a long civil war. A peace agreement signed the government in Khartoum and SPLM led to the eventual independence of South Sudan in 2011.

More than 3.5 million people live in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Most of them are dark-skinned and believe mainly in Christianity or traditional religions, as opposed to the population in the north which tends to be lighter-skinned and Muslim. This could also be part of the conflict, according to Jehanne Henry, who heads the Africa Department at Human Rights Watch in Kenya.

The rebels don't want really want to be part of South Sudan or create their own country, she said.

"What they want are their rights," Henry said. "What they are trying to do is get power and wealth sharing arrangements in place, so that they can have more power in the central government, and they also talk about the new constitution having human rights be protected."

Difficult access for humanitarian help

The humanitarian situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is alarming. Around 700,000 people are threatened by hunger, according to the United Nations. But there's not much that relief organizations can do to help the people.

"The Government of Sudan does not want to give access to humanitarian agencies in [...] north-controlled areas because they claim that that assistance would also go and support those forces that are fighting the government," Hogendoorn said.

Refugees from South Kordofan near a UN camp 
Photo: Andreas Hansmann

Refugees from the two provinces have a difficult time escaping

In addition, the provinces are difficult to reach, German doctor Andreas Hansmann said. He volunteered for two months at a hospital in South Kordofan.

"The only way to leave the provinces is through South Sudan," he told DW.

But South Sudanese capital is 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) away from the two provinces. Also, roads are impassable during the rainy season.

Hard to flee

There are few possibilities of places to flee to for anyone who wants to leave. The easiest place to reach is Yida, a border town in South Sudan. At the moment, there are more than 65,000 people there in the refugee camps, according to Doctors Without Borders. Around 300 new refugees arrive daily. That makes the provision of health care difficult, said Doctors Without Borders' Jordan Davidoff.

"There are essentially children who do die because of things like diarrhea and also malaria," he added.

Aid organization said they were concerned about the increase of the population in the refugee camps. They are planning to build additional refugee camps in South Sudan because the conflict looks like it is far from over.

DW.DE