Sudan Accused Of Bombing Civilians

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say Sudanese planes have been terrorizing civilians in the Nuba mountains region of Southern Kordofan. Researchers from the two human rights groups managed to sneak into the region recently to document what they say have been ongoing and indiscriminate air strikes in the region. Sudan claims that the newly independent country of South Sudan is fomenting unrest in Kordofan. Human rights groups say there is an armed conflict in the region, but that doesn't excuse attacks on civilians.

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Human rights groups are accusing Sudan of bombarding civilians in a region called Southern Kordofan. The groups have documented at least 26 deaths and many more wounded. Just last week, Sudan's president announced a ceasefire in that region.

But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say Sudan is still carrying out indiscriminate airstrikes.

MICHELE KELEMEN BYLINE: Sudan accuses the newly independent South Sudan of fomenting the conflict in the Nuba Mountains region of Southern Kordofan. There is an active rebellion there, but human rights groups say that doesn't excuse the Sudanese response. Sudan hasn't allowed international observers to see what's going on, so Amnesty International's Donatella Rovera sneaked into Southern Kordofan recently to investigate more than a dozen deadly air strikes.

DONATELLA ROVERA: These are indiscriminate strikes both because the munitions that are used are not precision munitions and because the manner in which they are delivered do not allow for accurate targeting.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Rovera says she met a woman who lost two daughters, ages 3 and 4. Many of the victims of the air raids Amnesty International investigated were women and children.

ROVERA: Some of them were in their homes. Others were at the market or fetching water from the communal village well or just on the street or cultivating the field. Basically, really, you know, ordinary people going about their daily chores.

KELEMEN: And Rovera says there were no military targets in the places she and her colleagues visited. Though Sudan's president announced a temporary cease-fire last week, the Amnesty International researcher says she's been in touch with people in Southern Kordofan in recent days who say the airstrikes are ongoing. And when she was there, she often heard planes overhead.

ROVERA: I mean, the planes were sort of like, you know, a constant factor, and we certainly saw bombs being dropped on several occasions.

KELEMEN: In New York, Daniel Bekele of Human Rights Watch is urging the U.N. Security Council to take this matter seriously and put pressure on Sudan to stop the bombings and let humanitarian aid into Southern Kordofan. The needs, he says, are great.

DANIEL BEKELE: We are talking about 150,000 people who have been displaced from their home and tens of thousands of people who live in caves and mountaintops and under the trees and in the bushes.

KELEMEN: He says South Africa and China are preventing action in the U.N. Security Council, and he's hoping this report of ongoing airstrikes will get the international community's attention. The government of Sudan, though, is also trying to get the U.N. Security Council's attention. Sudan's foreign ministry sent a formal complaint to the council's president today, accusing South Sudan of supporting the rebels in Kordofan and taking other, quote, "hostile steps toward Khartoum." U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland today called on both the rebels and the Sudanese government to cease-fire.

VICTORIA NULAND: We further call on both sides to allow unfettered humanitarian access to affected populations in the state.

KELEMEN: Sudan let a small team of U.N. experts into Southern Kordofan earlier this month to check on food and medical supplies, but Sudan's president has made clear he doesn't want international aid groups getting involved in the region. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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