UN condemns North Sudan offensive
Khartoum – The UN officials denounced Sudan for stepping up air strikes in South Kordofan on the south Sudan border on Tuesday, as religious leaders and rights activists alleged a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
"We are extremely concerned about the bombing campaign, which is causing huge suffering to the civilian population and endangering humanitarian assistance," said Kouider Zerrouk, spokesperson for the UN Mission in Sudan.
"The intensive bombing by SAF [Sudanese Armed Forces - northern army] in the past week is continuing in Kadugli and Kauda, where jet fighters dropped 11 bombs at 10:30 this morning, apparently targeting an airfield," he added.
Two bombs had landed very close to the UNMIS compound in Kauda, which is situated just 150m from the airstrip.
But the SAF denied it was targeting civilians.
"We have a rebellion in South Kordofan and we are targeting the rebels," said army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad.
Heavy fighting between SAF troops and allied militiamen against fighters aligned to southern former rebel group the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has raged across the heavily-armed state since June 5.
Fears had been growing among civilians of intensified SAF air strikes on former rebel strongholds, where the indigenous Nuba peoples fought with the SPLA during the devastating 1983-2005 civil war between north and south.
"We reiterate our call on the SAF, the SPLA and other armed groups who are involved in this conflict to allow immediate access to humanitarian agencies, stop military attacks against civilians and respect and protect them in accordance with international law," Zerrouk said.
UNMIS could not provide details of casualties. But a Sudan human rights group late on Monday reported that Antonov bombers had killed more than 65 people in air strikes in the state over the past nine days.
The Sudan Democracy First Group (SDGP), in a six-page report, accused the northern army of pursuing a genocidal campaign in South Kordofan.
SAF soldiers, supported by the Popular Defence Forces, a feared civil war militia that now forms part of the Sudanese army, were targeting the Nuba peoples, the report said.
The UN refugee agency appealed to the Sudanese authorities to provide air and road access for humanitarian agencies to South Kordofan, where UN offices and warehouses have been looted.
Planes have been refused permission to land and roadblocks were hampering access by land, spokesperson Melissa Fleming said.
Reports are also emerging of alleged atrocities carried out by the armed forces on civilians and Sudanese UN staff.
The SDGP reported extra-judicial killings carried out during house-to-house searches for people suspected of sympathising with southern-aligned troops.
It said two UNMIS staff members, Numeiri Silik and Juma Bahr, were killed in front of the mission's compound in Kadugli, and another man's body was found dumped there.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "deeply concerned" at the latest reports.
"Reports of ongoing attacks on civilians and aerial bombardments are shocking and I condemn all such actions," Hague said in a statement.
"Equally disturbing is the denial of access to humanitarian agencies."
The United States threatened to halt the normalisation of its ties with Sudan, warning the government it faced deeper international isolation if it did not halt the mounting violence in the border state.
The head of the Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, said the unrest risked turning the state into "another Darfur".
He urged international action to protect its non-Arab minorities, some of whom are Christian.
Daniel Deng Bul, who as the Episcopal Archbishop of Sudan is the country's senior Anglican leader, also accused Khartoum of pursuing a policy of "ethnic cleansing" in South Kordofan, in a statement on Tuesday.
The attacks came less than a day after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir agreed to a provisional deal with his southern counterpart Salva Kiir to pull his troops out of the disputed Abyei border district, during talks in Ethiopia.
An AU official, which brokered the talks, said that while the presidents had focused primarily on Abyei, they had also discussed security along the rest of the north-south border.
Northern troops occupied Abyei last month.
Now security along the border looks in jeopardy, for just weeks before the south is due to win recognition as an independent state, the fighting in central Sudan shows no sign of abating.