NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – George Clooney’s Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) issued a “human security warning” for civilians living in Sudan’s war-torn South Kordofan region and in the disputed Abyei area on Tuesday, saying images of a military buildup could signal a new government offensive.
DigitalGlobe imagery showed attack helicopters, support and transport aircraft had arrived at El Obeid air base in neighbouring North Kordofan, and the number of helicopters and transport aircraft stationed at Kadugli air base in South Kordofan had almost tripled, the SSP said.
On the ground, it said there was an increase in the number of tanks and other vehicles stationed in garrisons in El Obeid and Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan.
“This buildup suggests a possible new offensive,” the SSP said on its website. “The threat of renewed attacks on Sudanese civilians in South Kordofan, which could cause further displacement, is particularly worrying as food insecurity increases for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people with the advent of the dry season.”
Seasonal hunger is a problem for many Sudanese, worsened in South Kordofan by massive displacement due to the conflict between rebels and government forces which reignited in June 2011.
Sudan’s rainy season, during which there is traditionally a lull in fighting, ends next month.
Rebels in South Kordofan fought alongside southern insurgents during Sudan’s civil war but were left in Sudan when South Sudan seceded under a 2005 peace deal. They say they are fighting persecution by the government, but it accuses them of trying to sow chaos at South Sudan’s behest.
On Sunday, residents of the Abyei border region plan to hold a unilateral referendum despite warnings it could lead to violence. The ownership of Abyei was left undecided when South Sudan seceded - and a long-promised official plebiscite on its status has been stalled by arguments over who is entitled to vote.
Celebrity campaigner Clooney has previously accused Sudan of committing crimes against humanity by burning down villages in South Kordofan. The government says such charges are false and it is protecting civilians.