Clinton’s Africa Trip Should Bring Attention to Atrocities in Nuba Mountains
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s seven-nation tour of Africa this week offers an opportunity to bring much needed international attention to the atrocities underway in the South Kordofan region of Sudan. While visiting the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, to discuss cross-border tensions with its northern neighbor, Clinton should also work with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and other leaders, most notably the Chinese envoy to Sudan, to pressure Khartoum to immediately cease its attacks and permit a flow of aid into the region. Relentless bombings and systematic attacks since last June have forced hundreds of thousands of Nuba to take refuge in mountains and caves. Approximately two weeks ago the Sudan armed forces burned the homes of civilians in the Al Abbasiya village in the eastern Nuba Mountains. Quoting a government official, they are “draining the sea to catch the fish,” destroying villages, crops, poisoning wells and everything else that could sustain life. Unable to plant crops in their fields, those who survive the bombs are being starved to death by Khartoum’s quarantine of the region. The Khartoum government has blocked access to these regions for nearly a year. The carnage is directed by President Omar al-Bashir and governor of the South Kordofan state Ahmed Haroun, who are wanted by the International Criminal Court for all-too-similar crimes in Darfur. China is one of the most notorious suppliers of weapons to the genocidal Sudanese regime, and the its bloody fingerprints can be found in South Kordofan. In Nuba, the Sudanese military are using long-range, Chinese-made Weishi rockets, which travel at 3,000 miles per hour when fired from more than 25 miles away and consist of a 330-pound warhead often loaded with steel ball bearings. The weapons are inaccurate and often hit civilian centers instead of legitimate targets. China is also the biggest player in the oil industry on both sides of the Sudanese border. Since South Sudan gained independence last July, China has been keen to grow closer to the new oil-rich nation. Though rising tensions between Sudan and South Sudan threaten China’s investments in the region, China continues to foment instability, supplying the South Sudanese Liberation Army with anti-vehicle mines and Type 56-1 rifles while simultaneously arming the Khartoum government. With the supply of arms, China seems to be fueling the region’s border wars and oil disputes. Recently, however, there have been signs that China is reconsidering its role in the region. China has begun to show interest in playing mediator, as Chinese envoy Zhong Jianhua urged the Sudans to reach a peaceful agreement over outstanding issues and in fact voted for a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to cross border attacks. However, careful not to be perceived as supporting either side, it has so far only offered support to the African Union negotiations. China holds significant leverage over the Sudanese regime. President Bashir might be forced to allow in humanitarian aid and call off his militias and warplanes if he feared that failing to do so would prompt China cut off its material and political support. On her visit, Secretary Clinton should work with her South Sudanese counterparts to pressure China to take the first small steps toward this transformation. There already exists a tripartite proposal for Access to Provide and Deliver Humanitarian Assistance to War-Affected Civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States issued by the UN, Arab League, and African Union, which was formally accepted by Khartoum, but its implementation is yet to be seen. Based on this agreement, representatives of the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), opposition forces in Sudan, have been in talks through African Union mediators in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). The discussions deadlocked when the Sudanese government refused SPLM-N’s involvement in the distribution of the humanitarian assistance. The SPLM-N Secretary General’s accusation that food aid is being manipulated for political gain seems accurate as Khartoum continually pushes for a political deal before reaching an agreement on humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, the Nuba people have been sentenced to death by starvation. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has called on the two parties to fulfill their obligations under resolution 2046 in a statement released on Saturday, but rhetoric alone is not enough. The United States needs to be more proactive, and Secretary Clinton should engage with all regional stakeholders to seek Chinese support in pressuring Khartoum to allow humanitarian aid into rebel-controlled areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.