South Kordofan echoes of the failure in Darfur

If ever the world had a responsibility to protect anyone, then it surely should prevent the butchers of Darfur from claiming more victims, in the border region where Sudan meets South Sudan.

The world's newest border region, where Sudan meets South Sudan, is fast becoming the world's newest area of wholesale human tragedy as well. If anyone is to help to avert a famine - and save hundreds of thousands of people - in South Kordofan and adjacent provinces, the effort must begin now.

Sudanese soldiers and aircraft are systematically bombing villages and burning crops, according to the few outsiders able to penetrate the region, in what amounts to ethnic cleansing. By keeping aid groups and reporters away, Khartoum purposefully blocks relief efforts.

South Sudan became independent last July, and relations with Sudan have been bedevilled by disputes over oil and borders. South Kordofan, a disputed province of Sudan, has seen fighting between Sudanese government forces and rebel groups that draw support from the south.

Khartoum's government is notoriously merciless: in Darfur, it armed and unleashed ruthless Arab local militias to loot, rape, kill and displace non-Arab tribes. For that, Sudan's president, Omar Al Bashir, earned indictments by the International Criminal Court in 2009.

Now, under cover of suppressing guerrillas, Sudan is using the same tactics, with the same goals, in South Kordofan. Mukesh Kapila, a respected former British and UN official who knows the region well, said last weekend that Sudan "hosted the first genocide of the century in Darfur, and the second one is unfolding" now in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan.

If ever the world had a "responsibility to protect" anyone, then, it surely should prevent the butchers of Darfur from claiming more victims.

But how? The UN and many aid organisations pulled staff out of the dangerous new border area in recent months. Two UN workers recently returned but UN officials are now begging member states for helicopters to use there; Russia withdrew its helicopters and crews from UN service in January, after attacks on some of them.

In February, the UN, African Union, and Arab League jointly proposed a protocol for humanitarian-aid access, but aid is still not flowing, and it is needed more urgently each day.

Sudan's regime is as intractable as any, and South Kordofan is a remote and dangerous region. But surely the world can at least make an effort try to save hundreds of thousands of desperate and blameless civilians from the fate of their compatriots in Darfur.

Published: March 20, 2012 04:00 AM


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