Khartoum’s promised starvation campaign in the Nuba Mountains underway
Martin Plaut / 5 hours ago
This article by Eric Reeves explains the Sudanese government’s strategy in the current offensive in the Nuba Mountains.

Khartoum’s Promised Starvation Campaign in the Nuba Mountains Now Underway

Eric Reeves, 6 December 2014

Precisely two months ago I warned that the people of the Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan, Sudan) were
deeply endangered by plans disclosed in leaked minutes of an August 31
meeting that included the most senior military and security officials of
the Khartoum regime. I cited in particular two statements that were clearly
never meant to be seen or heard by a wider audience. General Siddiq Amer,
Director of Military Intelligence and Security, declared with remarkable

“This year the Sudan People’s Army [Sudan Peoples Liberation Army-North—ER]
managed to cultivate large areas in South Kordofan State. We must not allow
them to harvest these crops. *We should prevent them. Good harvest means
supplies to the war effort. We must starve them,* so that, commanders and
civilians desert them and we recruit the deserters to use them in the war
to defeat the rebels” (page 10 of English translation)

*”We must starve them.”*

He is speaking of hundreds of thousands of civilians, for of course this ruthless assessment neglects to point out
that the vast majority of agricultural production is a civilian
undertaking, and that it will be Nuba civilians—primarily children, women,
and the elderly—who will suffer most from this destruction of food
supplies, not the rebels. Even more blunt are the words of General
Imadal-Dindin Adawy, Chief of Joint Operations:

“We should attack them before the harvest and *bombard their food stores
and block them completely”* (page 14).

One might have thought that with their plans so widely disseminated in the
news, social media, and other sources, these *génocidaires* would alter or
delay their plans. Not so. Late November and December are the height of the
sorghum harvest season in the Nuba, and it is finally not surprising that
Khartoum should forge ahead with its plans of civilian destruction by means
of starvation. A report from a humanitarian organization with a tenuous
presence in parts of the Nuba reports confidentially about the last week of

– during the week of 21-28 November six aerial raids by Antonov planes
dropped a total of 32 bombs in six different locations. The attacks
resulted in damage to farms and the immediate relocation of women and
children to forests and riversides in Blue Nile and to rocks and caves in
South Kordofan.

– [we have] been receiving reports of significant build-up of forces at
the front lines and drone overflights spotted, that in the past have
preceded aerial attacks on civilian locations. In addition, reports of
escalation of ground fighting have also been received. *[Drones have
been used to identify food storage sites as well as concentrations of

– *the Sudan Armed Forces has been deliberately burning large community
farms, estimated to be as much as 400-500 fedans of sorghum fields in
Dalami County. One fedan of cereal crops provides between 3-6 months of
staple grain for a family of six. Thus, 500 fedans equates to 1500 people
with no staple food for a year.*

It is early December: this is only the beginning of Khartoum’s assault on
the food supply of civilians in areas controlled by the Sudan Peoples
Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).

Other recent research by the Enough Project offers equally grim data (from
“Extermination by Design: The Case for Crimes against Humanity in Sudan’s
Nuba Mountains,” The Enough Project | November 2014

To better understand the toll of the government-imposed humanitarian
blockade, in August 2014, a team of anonymous researchers conducted a
detailed assessment of the living conditions of the people in the parts of
South Kordofan controlled by the rebels. Their research found that
households are cultivating 10 percent less land this year than in the
previous year. The cumulative effect of three years of unrelenting war is
that, *alarmingly, cultivation has now dropped to one-fifth of pre-war
levels. As a consequence, 70 percent of displaced households are
consistently experiencing moderate or severe hunger.*

Other indicators are equally alarming.

Fifty-three percent of those surveyed in South Kordofan stated that
the children in their home were not attending school regularly.
Fifty-four percent claim that their primary [water] source dries up at
some point during the year.
Forty-seven percent have to walk more than five kilometers to reach a health facility.
Sixty-six percent of households stated that their child had malaria in the preceding four weeks.
Perhaps most striking, 70 percent of households stated that their primary barrier to food security was the insecurity caused by the violence.
Other sources confirm heavy fighting in the Dalami area in the northern
part of the Nuba Mountains, signaling the start of yet another ruthless dry
season defined by military violence. Such heavy fighting continues to
threaten not only crops yet to be harvested, but the food that has already
been harvested and thus concentrated in storage locations. These food
storage sites are the targets of Khartoum’s relentless aerial bombardment,
and were the most particular targets of ground assaults on Nuba villages in
the last fighting season (November – June 2013).

The scale and intensity of aerial assaults has been ferocious for almost
three and a half years (helicopter gunships were deployed by Khartoum
against fleeing Nuba civilians shortly after the regime initiated conflict
in South Kordofan on June 5, 2011). Nuba Reports recently noted (November 14
<;) that
Khartoum had “launched dozens of bombing raids on civilian areas in the
Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile in the last week”:

Nuba Reports has confirmed 36 bombs dropped in the last ten days in South
Kordofan. Two civilians were killed, and 12 wounded, including children.
Meanwhile in Blue Nile state, a barrage of bombings killed a mother, and
wounded three other civilians. *The latest assaults bring the total number
of bombs dropped on civilian targets to 2041.*

*What Khartoum’s Use of Military Assets Against Civilians Tells Us*

This savage use of aerial military assets against civilians has a long
history (I chronicle much of this in “They Bombed Everything that Moved:
Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 –
2013,” <; which includes an extensive data
spreadsheet). It remains the case for the Nuba, as well as Blue Nile and
Darfur, that Khartoum’s aerial attacks on its own civilians is not
meaningfully challenged in any fashion by the international community,
creating a sense of complete impunity and ensuring that the attacks will
continue. We see this sense of impunity most conspicuously in the
deliberate aerial assaults on hospitals earlier this yeas. Last May and
June two different hospitals in two locations within the Nuba
Mountains—both known to be hospitals by the regime—were attacked.

The Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel (near Kauda) was attacked on May 1,
2014 by a Russian-built Sukhoi-24 military jet aircraft in a deliberate
effort to destroy the hospital and kill Dr. Tom Catena, an American who is
the only surgeon working in the Nuba Mountains—the only person able to
piece together bodies torn apart by the shrapnel from barrel bombs dropped
by the more familiar Antonovs (a retrofitted Russian-built cargo plane that
flies at high altitudes and has no bomb targeting mechanism, ensuring they
have no militarily useful accuracy). The Sukhoi-24 used on May 1, however,
is another matter: although not a state-of-the-art air-to-ground attack
aircraft, it has more than enough accuracy and fire-power against an
undefended hospital, and considerable destruction was inflicted. In turn,
people fled and the hospital was abandoned by those who were ambulatory.
Not all patients were. As Nuba Reports noted at the time

At 10am [May 1, 2014] the [Sukhoi-24] dropped 5 bombs in a straight line
between the staff quarters and the hospital. Nobody was killed, but in a
matter of minutes the hospital was emptied. Hundreds of patients and
visitors fled into the bush, or caves in nearby mountains. [A video of this
has been posted with the Nuba Reports dispatch.]

The aircraft was identified by Tom Catena, who began working in the Nuba
even before the outbreak of fighting in 2011 and has courageously remained
to do his singularly important surgical work (see my interview of Dr.
Catena at ).

Six weeks later, the hospital of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans
Frontière (MSF) in Frandala was heavily bombed on June 16,
inflicting severe damage and wounding six noncombatants—three of them
severely. Perhaps unwisely, MSF had provided Khartoum with their location
precisely so as to forestall such an attack.

During an aerial attack on a Sudanese village, Sudan’s air force bombed and
partially destroyed a hospital run by the international medical
humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontière/Doctors Without Borders
(MSF) in the war-torn South Kordofan region on Monday, depriving civilians
of critical medical care, the organization said today. As bombs struck the
village of Farandalla [more commonly spelled Frandala] on 16 June, two hit
the MSF hospital. Five people were wounded in the village and one MSF staff
member was injured at the hospital. MSF medical teams treated the wounded
and organized the transfer of three severely injured patients to another
hospital. (*MSF Press Release, 17 June 2014)*

[A number of disturbing images of victims of Khartoum’s indiscriminate
bombing of civilians in the Nuba may be found at:

caution is urged, as some image are quite ghastly.]

What is notable, and a measure of Khartoum’s sense of impunity, is what
occurred between the two attacks. In one sense, of course, nothing
happened. But convinced that perhaps increasing the rhetorical volume might
make a difference, the Obama administration had the United States
ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, issue an unusually strong statement,
reported by Agence France-Press:

The US ambassador to the United Nations accused Sudan Thursday [12 June
2014] of intensifying attacks on civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile
states, and of deliberately bombing schools and hospitals. Samantha Power
condemned “in the strongest possible terms” attacks she said were being
carried out by the Sudanese government and its rapid support forces against
ordinary people. Ground and air attacks have increased since April, with
hundreds of barrel bombs and other ordnance dropped on towns and villages,
deliberately targeting hospitals and schools, she said. (Agence
France-Presse [UN/New York], 13 June 2014)

All true. And yet four days later, Khartoum offered its response to this
“condemnation”: it bombed the MSF hospital. Such contemptuous flouting of
the U.S. is nothing new on Khartoum’s part, and for its part the U.S. had
no further comment of significance—certainly nothing that harkened back to
Ambassador Power’s statement of June 12. Inevitably, such a sequence of
statements and actions only works to deepen the regime’s sense of impunity.

And it is this impunity that lies behind the burning of crops and the
destruction of food storage sites that are apparently beginning in earnest,
as they have for the past four agricultural cycles. And the human
consequences are likely to be catastrophic: the Sudan Relief and
Rehabilitation Organization, over a month before the ominous meeting of
Khartoum’s security and military officials on August 31, warned:

*Sudan Government offensive drives 1.1 million civilians to brink of
*Press Release from the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Organisation, Juba,
South Sudan*

*Juba, 8 July 2014.* Attacked from the air and from the ground, women and
children have been forced to cower in caves. Fields have been left untilled
and cattle uncared for. A carefully conducted survey, carried out at great
risk by workers in the field, has revealed the scale of the looming
catastrophe, which is detailed in the 4th SRRA report on the humanitarian
and human rights situation of the war-affected people in Southern Kordofan
and Blue Nile States of Sudan.

The dry season offensive – launched by the Sudanese Armed Forces in January
this year – has driven civilians away from their homes and their farms. Now
they are on the brink of catastrophe. The Sudanese authorities are well
aware of the seasons for planting and harvesting and the intensification of
bombardments reported in May, June and November, December and January,
indicate that the Government is intentionally attempting to disrupt these
critical periods in the agricultural year. *It is a deliberate strategy
designed to use of starvation as a weapon of warfare.*

The Nuba Mountains, like Darfur, presents a spectacle of human suffering
and destruction that are unconscionably neglected—though not for lack of
knowledge of what is occurring. In addition to the multiple reports cited

*UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs *
*Humanitarian Bulletin: Sudan | Issue 47 | 17 – 23 November 2014*

*Highest levels of food insecurity in Sudan are in SPLM-N areas, FEWS NET*

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) reported in its
September 2014 food security outlook report for Sudan that through December
2014 at least 20 percent of displaced people in Sudan Peoples Liberation
Movement-controlled areas of South Kordofan [mainly the Nuba Mountains—ER]
will experience *Crisis (IPC Phase 3)* levels of food insecurity. This is
primarily due to restricted access to humanitarian assistance, ongoing
conflict, and reduced access to cash income from seasonal agricultural

[In the FEWS Net classification scheme, a “Crisis Phase” is defined in the
following terms

“At least 1 in 5 households face significant food consumption gaps with
high or above usual acute malnutrition, or is marginally able to meet
minimum food needs only with unsustainable coping strategies such as
liquidating livelihood assets”—ER.]

According to FEWS NET, SPLM-North areas in South Kordofan have the highest
level of food insecurity in Sudan. The Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation
Agency (SRRA), the humanitarian arm of SPLM-N, reported in August 2014 that
there were 500,000 displaced people in SPLM-N areas in South Kordofan and
Blue Nile. UN agencies do not have access to SPLM-N areas and cannot verify
the scope of civilian displacement and humanitarian needs in SPLM-N areas.

UN agencies do not have access because Khartoum refuses to grant any
humanitarian access to the areas of the Nuba controlled by the SPLM-N. Even
humanitarian assessments are conducted only at considerable risk by the
SRRA, and occasionally by outside actors such as Enough.

How is it that the international community remains silent about the denial
of humanitarian access to starving Nuba people—what amounts to a crime
against humanity? How is it that the international community brings no
significant pressure on Khartoum to halt its campaign of deliberately
bombing civilian and humanitarian targets, again—in aggregate—crimes
against humanity? Whether we look to South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Darfur, or
the massively unreported suffering in eastern Sudan, why do these human
realities not matter sufficiently to generate effective action? Why haven’t
the countries of Europe imposed comprehensive economic sanctions on
Khartoum, comparable to those of the U.S.?

And as Khartoum pushes toward it goal of starving the Nuba, why does the
international community ignore the frankly avowed and well begun campaign
of this regime?

“This year the Sudan People’s Army managed to cultivate large areas in
South Kordofan State. We must not allow them to harvest these crops. *We
should prevent them. Good harvest means supplies to the war effort. We
must starve them…*

Yet again, there are no morally acceptable answers.

*What starvation looks like; what does it say about the Khartoum regime
that it is willing to use such suffering as a weapon of war?*

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063