Escalating violence against civilians in Sudan’s disputed South Kordofan State is leading to a major humanitarian catastrophe with an estimated 300,000 people besieged, cut off from relief aid, and unable to escape fighting, according to a number of aid agencies and witnesses in the region.
Up to 40,000 people have fled recent fighting between Sudanese government troops and members of the former southern rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), in Kadugli, the capital of Sudan’s oil-producing state of South Kordofan, according to a U.N. report quoted by the World Council of Churches (WCC).
“The violence and displacement of people now taking place is a potential threat to the peaceful transition and independence of South Sudan,” WCC general secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit said on June 10. “We call on those involved to end the violence immediately and for those countries involved in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which led to the January referendum to place pressure on both sides to resolve this situation.”

Churches have been caught in the fighting, with some destroyed and their property looted, Sudanese clergy said. “Some of the churches have burnt down completely. Others have been destroyed with their windows being shattered by heavy artillery. The fighters looted everything before setting them ablaze,” the Rev. Ramadan Chan Liol, the general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches told ENInews on June 10 in a telephone interview.

Chan said church leaders believed the burning and destruction was instigated. “We have heard the government say in the past the northern region will ruled through sharia (Islamic) law when the south breaks away. We believe the Sudanese army and Islamic militias carried out the burning.”
The fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and SPLA, the former rebel army, started in villages in the Nuba Mountains region on June 5, according to Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church diocese of Kadugli. “The Church of Christ in Kadugli (town) was burnt down. My staff were scattered. We are still trying to find them,” he said in brief report received by ENInews in an e-mail on June 10.

A church source quoted an eyewitness saying that tear gas was used on June 9 to force out of a church compound a priest, sisters and more than 100 Christians. The Sudanese clergy had warned in May that any fighting in the country could derail South Sudan independence which is expected to be inaugurated on July 9. A peace agreement in 2005, which ended a 21-year civil war, mandated a referendum on Jan. 9, in which the south Sudanese voted for secession.

The pact, known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) does not give South Kordofan the right to join South Sudan in its independence, and South Kordofan is now under the control of the central government.

Elections for the state’s governor in May turned controversial after the candidate from the National Congress Party won. The Sudan People Liberation Movement candidate rejected the results saying they were fraudulent. This is cited as one cause of the fighting.

“The churches and pastors were directly targeted (on May 5) in the guest house in Kadugli where my staff lives. Militias and SAF broke into the house taking all properties ... they were looking for pastors and the bishop,” said Elnail. “We need the UN to arrest the situation ... and stop the bloodshed. We need prayers and support,” he said.

Sudanese church leaders say the situation is deteriorating fast and fear there is “ethnic cleansing” unfolding in the Nuba Mountains. “More and more voices on the ground are now describing this as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and comparing it to the genocide which took place in the Nuba Mountains in the early 1990s. Clearly it needs an urgent international response,” said John Ashworth, who advises the Sudan Ecumenical Forum on Sudan issues.

The United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on June 8 that some 7,000 people displaced in the fighting had sought refuge in the United Nations Mission in the Sudan compound.

World Council of Churches Communications contributed to this report.