Sudan: A civil war turned against school children

Subj: Africanews feb. 2000 - Date: 2/16/00 8:31:41 AM Eastern Standard Time

AFRICANEWS - News and Views on Africa from Africa - Issue 47 - February 2000

Human Rights

By Stephen Amin

Fourteen school children and a teacher in the rural Nuba mountains were killed in what many believe is the Khartoum's government move to coerce civilians to go to peace camps. This is an eye witness report on the incident.

On the morning of Tuesday February 8, around nine o'clock, a Russian made Antonov plane belonging to the Sudanese Airforce bombarded a primary school in Kauda Fouk, a village in the heart of the Nuba mountains in central Sudan. Four bombs were dropped, at the missionary sponsored school, where a total of six hundred pupils, aged between 8-17 are instructed on a daily basis. Ten children and a teacher, Roda Ishmael, 22 died on the spot from shrapnel, other four died during transportation to the only functioning hospital, which is about three kilometres from the school, seventeen others were wounded. The German Emergency Doctors (GED), a group of volunteers who are operating in the area with no permit from the government assumed the responsibility of treating the casualties.

Kamal Malak, a Nuba nurse working with the GED arrived at the scene twenty minutes after the attack. He said: " I did not waste time as soon as I heard the bombings I picked up my basic first aid box and rushed. I saw some of the injured with their relatives heading to our clinic, but I was after those still on the ground with no care." However, his presence did not help much as some of the injured were already dead.

According to Ramadan Hamid, an eye witness, the attack on the schools 'is not an accidental operation.' "Instead," he says, "the plane came the previous Saturday and identified the school after noticing the terrified children running aimlessly when they heard the bomber plane approaching. The aim is to create insecurity among civilians, in order to stop life supporting activities such as schooling and farming, to give the civilians no other option apart from "peace camps."

At the scene of the killings, children were running all over aimlessly as the bomber plane was still hovering above creating more terror on the survivors. With tears on their faces, children were screaming, confused, and some were throwing dust on their heads, while others beating their chests to show grief and disbelief. Those who managed to say a word could not say more than, " All are dead". Exercise books and schoolbags were scattered all over the place.

"It is traumatic to all of our children. It is not only to the pupils of the Holy Cross School but also to the nearby schools, we do not know how they could do of this," said Tigani Tima, a social worker and counsellor living in Kaouda. As a result of the attack some of the children have made up their minds. One of them was forthright: "I will stay at home, why go to school and die".

Following the attack schools in the area have closed, said headteacher Baruk Musa, educator at Holy Cross school. The school was started in 1998 by the local community with the assistance of the Catholic diocese. Baruk Musa together with other four teachers put all their efforts to bring the school to its present standard. It is the best in terms of quality teaching and somehow relatively qualified teachers. All the schools in the Nuba mountains have not gone beyond class four due to the war and lack of qualified teachers.

Children walk long distances bare footed with a handfull of groundnuts for their breakfast. In spite of the hard situation they face on a daily basis due to the ongoing civil war; you could see the smiles on their faces as they assemble every morning in the ground which turned a death-trap last week. "The government of Sudan is not just trying to fight us physically, they want to prevent even our education", said Nartisio Manir, an eye witness.

After viewing the video clip captured by me some five minutes after the bombing, Sudanese minister at the embassy of Nairobi, Dirdiery Ahmed, told reporters that: "The bombs landed where they are supposed to land..... the bombs landed into a military camp. The SPLA has pulled people into this military camp," he said. Up to the time of this writing the SPLA did not react. The records available at the African Rights' local office in the Nuba mountains reveal that some 34 children and two teachers have lost their lives in similar operations between October '97 and today.

The seven minutes video shows a civilian area with no soldiers or arms. The scattered books, the terrified children fleeing, a blackboard with an ongoing lesson written and the traditional benches on the ground with some corpses under them are an evidence that the Sudanese minister cannot deny.

A peaceful march took place on the morning of February 11 at the Holy Cross compound, with children and parents mourning the victims and showing protest against the Sudanese government for violating their children's rights and the United Nations for not being serious to follow up with the Sudanese government to get at least a permit for operating in the area. "Koffi Annan, we love you but where are you. Peace is the solution, but either in peace or war our children have the right to live and learn in their land" said Kuku Arad a parent of a 10-years-old bomb victim.

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