Sudan

SCIO Sudan Monthly Report Feb 2000

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1. CHRONOLOGY
February 17: A humanitarian crisis is developing in Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity State in south Sudan, with up to 25 families arriving everyday in search of food and security, a relief officer said. The American-based group, Care International and British charity Oxfam, pulled out their staff from the town, some 780 km southwest of Khartoum, because of what they said was a deteriorating security and humanitarian situation.

18: The United Nations World Food Programme has launched a US$58 million international appeal for funds to feed 1.7 million hungry Sudanese each month in both rebel and government held areas of the country until the end of the year. The majority of the needy are in southern Sudan.

22: Talks to end Sudan's 17-year civil war resumed in Nairobi with the SPLA accusing the government of indiscriminate attacks on civilians. In a statement, the SPLA said the daily bombardment of many areas of the SPLA-held south did not create a conducive atmosphere for the talks".

24: Sudanese junior minister Amin Benanai Nio announced that Khartoum will cease restrictions on political parties by scrapping one law and replacing it with another. Nio said the 1998 Political Associations Law has "officially been cancelled and will be substituted by the Political Parties and Associations Law" formulated by his ministry, the official SUNA news agency reported.

24: Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) has been forced to suspend humanitarian flights to Western Upper Nile due to the constant shifting of political allegiances and consequent insecurity that threatens the lives of humanitarian workers. This was especially so in light of confusion over where former vice-president Riek Machar stands since he tendered his resignation to President Omar al-Bashir last month, an OLS official said.

24: Human rights activists have criticised as inadequate the Canadian government's response to a report it had commissioned that linked the oil industry in southern Sudan with human rights abuses. Ottawa commissioned the report under pressure from human rights groups to sanction the Canadian oil company, Talisman Energy Inc, which has a 25 per cent interest in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), accused of contributing to the war and human rights abuses in Sudan.

24: The US Department of the Treasury announced on February 16 that the GNPOC would be added to its list of companies considered to be owned or controlled by the Sudan government, and to which US sanctions are applied. It did not place sanctions on Talisman directly, or de-list it from the New York Stock Exchange - as had been demanded by human rights groups in the US.

25: A programme to immunise 77,000 children in the Nuba Mountains region against polio has been launched, as part of a national immunisation campaign that started on February 17 and will continue to the end of the month, a UNICEF press release stated. The Nuba Mountains portion of the polio campaign marks the first time in almost 19 years that the UN has gained access to deliver humanitarian relief in this region, contested by the government and rebel SPLM.

26: Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of UN secretary-general Kofi Annan for Children and Armed Conflict, has called on all parties to the conflict in Sudan "to take measures to ensure that their forces do not attack civilian populations and sites". The call followed reports that 14 children and a teacher in the Nuba Mountains were killed, and 10 other children injured, when a bomb was dropped from an aircraft close to where lessons were underway.

26: The Constitutional Court has decided to close the constitutional petition filed by some members of the dissolved National Assembly against the December 12 decree by president Omar al-Bashir, which declared a state of emergency and dissolved parliament, Sudanese television reported. Bashir dissolved parliament to thwart an attempt by former parliamentary speaker Hassan al-Turabi - with whom he was engaged in a power struggle - to have the assembly limit the president's powers.

28: The US has repeated a warning to Sudanese rebels not to expel relief organisations from territory they control in the south of Sudan. State Department spokesman James Rubin said such a move, which has been threatened if the agencies do not sign a controversial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), could jeopardise Washington's support for the SPLA.

28: At least 11 international aid organisations were leaving southern Sudan after refusing rebel demands for higher taxes and more control over assistance to the war-ravaged region. Nearly 160 expatriate aid workers began pulling out following a rebel ultimatum to comply with new terms, aid group officials said in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

28: The Sudanese government barred Turabi from speaking at a public meeting, his spokesman said. Jamal Angarah told reporters at a meeting that he was supposed to address that Khartoum state authorities had ordered him not to speak at the event.

28: Disagreement over what constitutes southern Sudan has scuttled the latest round of talks aimed at ending the 17-year civil war in the largest nation in Africa, a Sudanese government official said. Nafie Ali Nafie, an adviser to president Bashir, said the disagreement with the SPLA centred on the configuration of part of Sudan that would be subject to a referendum on self-determination.

29: Sudan has condemned the SPLA for their "irresponsible" treatment of aid agencies in rebel-held parts of the south, SUNA said. The SPLA has given relief agencies until March 1 to sign the MOU or leave. The ultimatum has prompted some to leave ahead of the deadline, saying signing would compromise their independence.

March 2: The humanitarian agencies, which have been forced to leave southern Sudan, have appealed to the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association to reopen negotiations on the MOU. Humanitarian agencies that were unable to sign the current draft of the memorandum have completed the forced withdrawal of their staff, in accordance with the instructions of the SRRA.

4: Turabi has installed his supporters in key posts in the ruling National Congress (NC) party, showing he is far from a spent force, political analysts said. In December Bashir declared a state of emergency and dissolved parliament in a bid to curb the powers of Turabi, an Islamist ideologue.

4: Sudan has accepted Egypt's nominee for ambassador to Khartoum in a new sign of better ties after a decade of tension, Khartoum newspapers said. The independent al-Sharia al-Siyassi newspaper said Sudan notified the Egyptian charge d'affaires in Khartoum that the nomination of Mohammed Assem Ibrahim had been accepted.

6: US presidential envoy Harry Johnston arrived in Khartoum "with an open mind" on a groundbreaking visit to discuss peace, rights and relief in Sudan, a foreign ministry official said. US officials have said Washington is trying to re-engage the Islamic government in Khartoum.

7: Sudan has accused Uganda of seeking an African empire and violating a deal under which the two countries pledged to end support for each other's rebels, the independent al-Ayam newspaper reported. "Uganda has an illusion that it can form an empire in the heart of Africa," the Khartoum daily quoted Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail as saying.

7: Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, often criticised for being soft on Sudan issued a public rebuke of its Islamist government for bombing a hospital and a grade school in the south of the country. "The sustained and intentional bombing of civilian targets by the government of Sudan is reprehensible and clearly demonstrates to the world that this administration is unconcerned with the human security of its population," said the statement.

7: Rebels in southern Sudan who demanded private relief organisations sign agreements with them or leave should reopen discussions with those groups to avoid massive civilian suffering, a human rights group said. "Hundreds of thousands of civilians in southern Sudan face the cut off of essential services, including food, because the SPLA refused to extend the deadline for negotiations with NGOs," the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

8: More than 500 south Sudanese students demonstrated outside the US embassy in Khartoum, demanding self-determination for the war-torn south in a petition delivered to US special envoy Harry Johnston. After listening to the students' demands for UN intervention in the 17-year-old civil war and an end to Islamic law in Sudan, Jonston asked them to avoid any confrontation with police who watched without intervening, witnesses said.

8: Three policemen were killed and a fourth wounded when soldiers opened fire, mistaking them for saboteurs preparing to attack a section of the oil pipeline in northern Sudan, newspapers reported. The shootings occurred at night as police approached an army vehicle they thought belonged to smugglers in an area north of the city of Ad Damar, a police commander told Al-Akhbar Al-Yom daily and other papers.

8: The National Congress said in a statement it issued that Johnston's declared visit was "evidence of the failure by the US administration to topple the government by assisting the rebel movement." It said Johnston had earlier paid a number of undeclared visits to southern Sudan.

9: The US State Department strongly condemned what it said was an intensification by the Sudanese military of aerial bombardments of civilian targets in southern Sudan. Spokesman James P. Rubin said there have been repeated bombings of relief sites, hospital facilities, schools and other civilian population centres in southern Sudan.

9: Sudan's constitutional court has dismissed an appeal by a dozen members of Sudan's parliament against president Bashir's actions in dissolving parliament and declaring a state of emergency. Bashir dissolved parliament on December 12 and declared a three-month state of emergency pending new elections in moves aimed at curbing the influence of Turabi.

11: Sudan said it had reached a compromise deal with Egypt on the future of a formerly Egyptian-run Khartoum college, which it confiscated seven years ago. Higher education minister al-Zubair Beshir Taha said the Khartoum branch of Cairo University would re-open alongside the two Niles University, which opened in its place.

11: Sudanese government has cancelled a law that regulates party politics in the country. Opposition parties had been complaining that the political association's act was too restrictive to ensure fair democratic practice.

13: Fosters Resources Ltd., a fledgling Canadian junior oil company, said its affiliate Melut Petroleum Co.Ltd. has acquired a concession to develop a new oil project in Sudan. Melut will spend US$30 million on exploring the concession in the Melut Basin in central Sudan over the next three years.

14: A leading member of National Congress has denounced a government decision to extend a three-month state of emergency, an independent newspaper said. It was one of several measures that had taken Sudan "into a series of continuous violations of the rule of the constitution," Ali al-Haj Mohammed, deputy secretary general of the party was quoted as saying in al-Rai al-Aam newspaper.

14: Sudan signed an oil exploration agreement with a consortium covering around 70, 000 square kilometres stretching southwards from White Nile state, state-owned Alwan newspaper reported. It said the energy ministry signed the agreement . The consortium consists of a joint venture of the Qatari Gulf Petroleum Company and local al-Ghanawa firm with a 46 per cent stake, three unnamed Canadian and European companies also with 46 per cent, and state oil firm Sudapet with eight per cent.

14: The UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, Carolyn McAskie, has called for an end to attacks on civilians in Sudan, where UN agencies are about to resume polio immunization campaign. McAskie said she was "alarmed over reports of recent bombings in Sudan of civilian targets in Nuba, Yirol and Lui."

14: Col. Garang has said he was optimistic that the NDA will agree to a shake-up of the umbrella opposition group. Garang expressed the sentiments in an interview with AFP just before entering the final phase of the NDA leadership council meeting in Eritrea.

15: A close aide of Turabi threatened in remarks published a popular uprising against president Bashir's government over its decision to extend a state of emergency until the end of the year. The government also approved the formation of political parties, but opposition groups complained that it retained aspects of an original Islamic-based law, which they had rejected.

15: Egypt has formally resumed ties at ambassadorial level in Khartoum, seeking to dispel any idea it was promoting an Arab-Islamic alliance with the north against an African-Christian alliance in the south. Egypt's new ambassador Mohammed Asem Ibrahim presented his credentials to president Bashir, telling SUNA he would try to remove residual tension and "open a new chapter in ties" between Sudan and Egypt.

2. WHY THIS THIRST FOR BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT?

Despite mounting international censure, Sudan government continues to bomb civilian targets in the rebel territory in the south and the Nuba Mountains.

These horrendous acts have invariably claimed innocent lives and left others with all manner of injuries, some resulting into irreversible disabilities.

In the latest incident of what have virtually become weekly occurrences, two people were killed and 11 wounded in a bomb attack on an NGO compound at Yirol in the Bahr el-Ghazal region on March 4.

The Yirol raid came hot on the heels of another bombardment at Lui Hospital in the southern county of Mundri, in western Equatoria. Armed aircraft on March 1 dropped 12 bombs on the Samaritan's Purse hospital, the only such facility within a 100-mile radius. The Samaritan's Purse hospital has treated more than 100,000 patients since it opened in 1997

On February 8, a government bomber killed 14 children and a teacher in an attack on a school in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan. The children of Kauda 2 school were taking a lesson under a tree in one of the handful of such institutions in the region.

Where and when the next raid will be executed is the question many people are having on their lips now.

There can be no denying that the attacks on these civilian targets have all been by design rather than by accident. Witnesses give almost uniform accounts of how each of them was preceded by a plane flying at suspiciously low levels. Who cannot help but conclude that such flights are normally on survey missions to identify the intended targets? In any case, most of the places that have been attacked stand in isolation and are easy to distinguish from military installations.

But why these soft targets? Is it because the defenceless civilians are not likely to put up a resistance or it is just part of Khartoum's strategy to terrify the civilians and ensure that their lives remain a long stretch of misery with no meaningful contribution to the family of nations? Could the government be having an agenda to annihilate the populations in the rebel territory?

War is a regrettable phenomenon that carries with it all sorts of unforeseen consequences. However, in today's world there are regulations which govern what should and what should not be done in the event of this eventuality. One of them is that the combatants should steer clear of civilian targets. One does not need to be a graduate of a military academy to know this and appreciate the logic behind it.

Whereas the SPLA too cannot boast of a clean record with regards to violation of war conventions, Khartoum should bare in mind that its unbridled thirst for innocent blood is making the former a saint of sort. Sudan is a signatory to the Geneva Convention and the United Nations recognises her as a sovereign state. The UN therefore expects Khartoum to be more answerable to it (UN) than the rebel movement.

Some of the raids have occurred in areas where Khartoum has declared a cease-fire. What message are the bombardments in such places meant to be sending? One possibility is that the military government of President Omar Hassan el-Bashir is untrustworthy and one that doing business with is extremely difficult

- Charles Omondi

For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.577595 - fax +254.2.577327 -
e-mail: SCIO@MAF.Org

SUDAN CATHOLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
Bethany House, P. O. Box 21102, Nairobi, Kenya
tel. +254.2.577595 or 577949, fax 577327
e-mail:scio@maf.org