JUBA (AlertNet) - Fighting in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan state has prevented U.N. staff from assisting tens of thousands of displaced civilians, while the Sudanese Red Crescent trawls the streets of the state capital Kadugli for dead bodies.
Tensions are high in the African nation as violence has erupted in two border regions, Abyei and Southern Kordofan, ahead of south Sudan’s independence scheduled for July 9.
Conflict broke out in Southern Kordofan - the north's main oil state which borders south Sudan - between the northern military and southern-aligned groups on June 5. The United Nations said in a report on Tuesday that some 60,000 people have fled their homes, with more hiding out in the mountains.
“There is a growing sense of panic among some of the displaced populations who find themselves trapped by the ongoing violence and the ethnic fault lines,” the U.N. report said.
“Unknown numbers of people are believed to be hiding in the areas of the Nuba Mountains. Reports indicate that, after spending several days in the open, with little or no food and water, the health of the vulnerable displaced is deteriorating.”
The United Nations has evacuated its 30 international staff from the U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) compound in Kadugli, while locals remain trapped inside, with only a few days’ supply of food and water.
The northern military closed the airport a week ago, with roadblocks also inhibiting movement in and out of Kadugli. U.N. warehouses have been looted.
Emmanuel Timothy, a south Sudanese employee of the World Health Organisation (WHO), told AlertNet from inside the UNMIS compound that he feared for his life.
“We are now completely surrounded (by northern forces). We cannot move out, even an inch,” he said.
An UNMIS spokesman in Kadugli said he was checking unconfirmed reports that two local U.N. staff had been killed outside the compound on Monday.
SERIOUS SECURITY THREATS
Some 6,000 civilians are camped outside the compound, hoping they will be provided with security.
The U.N. report expressed concern about “the presence of large numbers of armed men, dressed in military uniforms and civilian clothes, clustered around the UNMIS compound”.
“Reports indicate serious threats to the security of the displaced population clustered around the compound,” it added.
Human rights agencies and church groups have alleged ethnically targeted attacks on Nuba civilians, who traditionally support the south, including “house-to-house” searches and “extra-judicial killings” - charges the northern government in Khartoum denies.
The WHO’s Timothy said Sudanese Red Crescent workers have been transporting dead bodies from the streets to Kadugli hospital, numbering 25 as of Tuesday.
“All the Arab tribes are free to go out, but if anyone from southern Sudan or the Nuba Mountains is found, they are harassed, arrested or even killed,” he said.
The Sudanese Red Crescent and a local non-governmental organisation are the only humanitarian agencies operating in the town.
The United Nations said in its report it has established posts around the area and a mobile monitoring team “to increase its ability to protect the displaced”.
Timothy said those camping around the compound were mostly children and the elderly. “They don’t have water. There is no shelter there and even security is not guaranteed,” he said.
The local NGO, which does not want to be named for security reasons, has been providing recreational activities for children to help them cope psychologically with their precarious situation.
Aerial bombardments have also killed and displaced people across the state. On Tuesday, two jet fighters dropped 11 bombs around Kadugli and in the Nuba Mountains.
The U.N. report said local sources indicate that 64 people have been killed in aerial bombardments since fighting broke out.
Lazim Suleiman, Southern Kordofan state humanitarian coordinator and a senior member of south Sudan's ruling party, the Southern People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), told AlertNet people have been displaced in many other towns besides Kadugli, including Dilling and Heiban.
Suleiman - in hiding near Kadugli after hearing that northern-allied militia were hunting down SPLM supporters - estimated that 100,000 civilians have been displaced in Kadugli alone.
“The hospitals are full of people - wounded people and also dead people,” he said.
Southern Kordofan was allied to the south during its 22-year war for independence, but is due to remain part of the north under a 2005 peace deal.
The population of south Sudan voted overwhelming for secession in a January referendum. Over 100,000 people were displaced from Abyei, another contested border region, when it was taken over by northern troops last month.