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government soldiers were approaching. After a week, MSF-Holland returned and found that all its medical supplies and equipment had been looted, as had the property of the civilians living there. The civilians said that Cmdr. James Lial (Diu) was responsible; he was formerly with the SPDF Riek Machar forces, and at the time with the Sudanese government/Paulino Matiep militia.
In this Sudanese government dry season offensive on the Nhialdiu-Nimne corridor in Block 5A, both sides took heavy casualties, as described in detail by an American NGO employee of military background
who was present on the Nhialdiu end of the corridor:
At 2 pm, February 15th 2002, the town of NHIALDIU was threatened by a large GOS [government of Sudan] armored mechanized column supported by MI-24 Hind [helicopter] gun-ships and AN[Antonov]-32 bombers. The SPLA had established a vehicle ambush location along the road in front of the armored column approximately 6 kilometers northeast of NHIALDIU. The location was near the site of an earlier engagement along the LOH River [on some maps the Lol or Bahr El Ghazal River] that took place on January 15th 2002. Contact was made between forces of the SPLA and GOS at 15:00 when the gun-ships spotted the ambush ahead of the column.
Approximately 100+ mounted Arab horseman supported by the MI-24 gun-ships attacked the SPLA positions. SPLA forces inflicted heavy casualties on the mounted horseman killing over 50 horses and wounding many others. Many horses and weapons were captured during this first action. 851 851 Frank Norbury, “Playing God in Hell, Field Report from Sudan, Western Upper Nile Area,” ICI Foundation, February 28, 2002, p.
2. The ICI Foundation is the nonprofit arm of International Charter Inc. (ICI), a frequent contractor to various U.S. agencies including the State Department. http://www.icioregon.com/index.htm (accessed June 24, 2002). ICI provided relief and protection and evacuation services for the U.N. and U.S. in West Africa; its armed defense of the U.S. embassy in Monrovia in 1996, logistical services in delivery of forty tons of food to refugees the WFP could not reach, and other services in Liberia won it the State Department’s award of “Small Business Contractor of the Year.” http://www.icioregon.com/nomination.htm (accessed June 24, 2002). ICI was brought into Sudan by pressure from U.S. congressmen frustrated that the State Department was perceived to be sitting on funds allocated to help the south “protect civilians from Sudan government attacks,” according to an ICI representative.
Human Rights Watch interview, Washington, D.C., March 2002. ICI was promised a “grant” of U.S. $ 1 million by the State
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The SPLA, however, failed to capitalize on its separation of the tanks from the infantry, for lack of “sufficient anti-armor weapons.” The government forces began a fighting withdrawal to Bentiu, during which the AN-32 bombers and MI-24 gun-ships attacked the village areas in the vicinity of the battle, which resulted in the killing of a large number of civilians.
Combatant casualties on both sides were high.852 The aid worker’s description of the next attack by the government forces on Nhialdiu on February 20, 2002, was equally precise:
At 2 pm, February 20th, 2002, the town of NHIALDIU was attacked from the North by a reinforced armored brigade supported by artillery, MI-24 Hind helicopter gun-ships and AN-32 bombers. The attack was lead by COLONEL BAKHIT ELWIA of the GOS. Twenty-four hours of non-stop aerial bombardment of the town and the surrounding villages by artillery and AN-32 bombers preceded the attack. The assault came in the form of 2 armored columns moving parallel and spearheaded by 20+ T-55 main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers supported by infantry. At 4 pm, February 20th, the GOS forces entered the town of NHIALDIU and secured a defensive perimeter around the town. During the attack, the civilian population fled south towards the CHAAR River and the town of WAUK. Not all were able to escape the attack. Many civilians were killed or wounded in the attack while others who were unable to run; the sick, invalid, elderly, pregnant females and small children were later killed by GOS forces during clearing operations of the town between 4 and 7 pm, February 20th, 2002. After consolidating their position in the town the night of the 20th, the GOS began wholesale destruction on the infrastructure of the town. They destroyed houses, water wells, churches, government buildings and the market area. At 8 am the Department to train paramedics destined to work with the SPLA forces, although it was skeptical that it would ever see that funding and within a few months was no longer operating in Sudan. Ibid.
852 “Playing God in Hell.”
next morning, the GOS forces and horse-mounted militia supported by MI-24 Hind gun-ships began to sweep and clear the area to the south of NHIALDIU towards the river CHAAR. Villages were burned and looted without quarter and their inhabitants slaughtered by both ground and air attacks. MI-24 Hind gun-ships flew in 2 and 3 gunship formations firing at anything that moved in the area, searching out any pockets of resistance or concentrations of people. The area south of NHIALDIU became a killing field for both people and their livestock. The infantry and horse-mounted militia moved behind the gun-ships looting the personal property and livestock of the abandoned villages and then burning every structure to the ground.853 This report is consistent with the reports of human rights investigators in Western Upper Nile/Unity State during February and March 2002.854 On February 22, 2002, Khartoum reported it had secured a major “airport” in Nhialdiu, which it claimed the SPLA had been using to attack oilfields in Western Upper Nile/Unity State. This is not consistent with the observations of countless investigators and relief personnel who have been in and out of Nhialdiu throughout the years.855 The SPLA retook Nhialdiu on February 29 but held it only for one day before losing it to the government.856 The SPLA lost Mankien to Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s militia in May 2002.
Displacement Crisis in Oil Areas Because of Fighting, 2001-2002
853 Ibid. His summaries are based on his interviews with SPLA officers, displaced persons and chiefs, and six Sudanese government army soldiers that had defected to the SPLM/A after the battle of Nhialdiu. “Debriefing the soldiers resulted in their confirmation of a large number of civilian casualties in the town and surrounding areas. They confirmed that the casualties were caused by [Sudanese government] small arms fire, helicopter gun-ships and bombing of the town. Exact numbers could not be determined.” Ibid.
854 “Hiding Between the Streams;” “Depopulating Sudan’s Oil Regions, January-March, 2002.” 855 There is a relief airstrip at Nhialdiu but nothing resembling a modern airport. The SPLA does not have an airforce.
856 “Depopulating Sudan’s Oil Regions,” p. 18.
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In early January 2001 UNICEF expressed its “extreme concern” that large numbers of displaced people in Upper Nile were putting pressure on local populations whose food needs were not secure, and this could lead to a humanitarian crisis. The WFP calculated that food needs for the vulnerable population would increase about 20 percent in 2001, compared to 2000.857 The following month, the WFP made an urgent plea for U.S. $ 135 million to feed 2.9 million people in Sudan. It said that “Hunger is expected to be worst in the 1998 famine zones of Bahr el Ghazal and in Upper Nile where the conflict continues.”858
The WFP said in the same month:
Our position on displacement around the oilfields in Sudan is that we have witnessed an increasing number of internally displaced people who have required food assistance in these areas. These are indeed people forcibly removed from their homes due to war.
They did not choose to flee for their lives.... The oil-rich area of Sudan has seen a great deal of population displacement and in fact, is currently one of the most insecure areas in Sudan.859 The Norwegian Refugee Council concluded in May 2001 that since the late 1990s displacement in Sudan had been closely linked to the expanding activities of the oil industry in Western Upper Nile/Unity State.860 A new wave of internally displaced civilians arrived in Bentiu in February-April 2001; they reported to the WFP that their homes had been attacked, burned, and looted by “militia,” although it did not specify 857 “Sudan: ‘Extreme concern’ at potential food crisis,” IRIN, Nairobi, January 10, 2001.
858 WFP press release, “Acute hunger set to hit Sudan as war continues and drought unfolds,” Nairobi, February 13, 2001.
859 Letter, Nicholas Siwinga, WFP Country Director Sudan, Khartoum, to Alastair Lyon, Reuters Bureau chief, Cairo, February 21, 2001.
860 “Fighting the Main Cause of Displacement,” IRIN, Nairobi, May 16, 2001.
which militia. The civilians suffered from a 24 percent global malnutrition rate. This was among the highest malnutrition rates reported in southern Sudan.861 By mid-2001, there was nothing left of Padit in Ruweng County (Block 5A), which was visited by the Harker mission in December 1999, and later by the Canadian/British mission of April 2001862 and by a journalist in July 2001. The journalist “found that in the town of Padit, there was nothing more than the foundations and remains of dozens of houses and farms.”863 Padit had been a town in Block 5A to which many displaced from Pariang (Block 1) had fled.
As if the condition of these civilians were not bad enough, the presence of a wild polio virus was confirmed in Ruweng County. A campaign to wipe polio out of Sudan had been in progress for a few years, but due to the fighting and insecurity, Ruweng County was not effectively reached. It had only two of three required rounds of National Immunization Days in 2000, only one in 1999, and none in 2001.
The treatment is ineffective unless all three rounds are administered within a limited time of several months. WHO, knowing the fighting and forced displacement which the Ruweng County area suffered and continued to suffer, stated that there was a real need for urgent rounds of polio immunization to halt the spread of polio.864 The United Nations urged warring parties to permit safe passage to teams staffed by WHO, UNICEF, and Operation Lifeline Sudan, who were due to arrive in the area at the end of July 2001 to combat the spread of the polio virus.865 The parties finally agreed, at Danforth’s urging, to make this area a “zone of tranquility” and to facilitate access for the purpose of wiping out the polio virus, but in typical fashion logistics, misunderstandings, and deception seriously delayed health access even then.
861 “Malnutrition Rates In Bentiu ‘Among the Highest,’” IRIN, Nairobi, April 30, 2001.
862 “The SPLA Commissioner of Ruweng County was interviewed by the investigators at Padit airstrip, where craters from bombing raids and burned houses from ground attacks were readily visible.” “Report of an Investigation into Oil Development,” p. 31.
863 Greg Palkot, “Oil Fuels Fighting in Sudan,” Fox News, Padit, Sudan, July 20, 2001.
864 “Polio Outbreak Confirmed in Western Upper Nile,” IRIN, Nairobi, July 25, 2001.
865 “U.N. seeks assurance for probe of Sudan polio case,” Reuters, U.N., July 27, 2001.
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One human rights investigating team estimated that in October 2001 there were an additional 80,000 displaced persons from Ruweng County escaping government military operations there. It noted that an estimated three-quarters of the population of Ruweng County had been displaced over time.866 Another investigating team concluded that the “Government of Sudan is deliberately targeting civilian populations, resulting in the displacement of the majority of Rubkona County.”867 From January to March 2002 an additional 50,000 persons from Block 5A were displaced, on the move from fighting between the government and rebels.868 As of March 2002, the number of internally displaced individuals from the oil areas found in Lakes (a section of Bahr El Ghazal) and Upper Nile region stood at 174,200.869 This did not include the numbers who were in Twic County of Bahr El Ghazal and in Khartoum.
The government tried to restrict relief access to these specific persons displaced from Western Upper Nile/Unity State in mid-2002, in a series of ploys that brought about a strong reaction from the operational NGOs, which was not as strongly followed up by donor governments. The Sudanese government succeeded in getting a U.N. official to sign an agreement, presented to him one-half hour before he left the country with the threat of “sign this or the displaced will get nothing,” that this region would be served from a government base in El Obeid, northern Kordofan, by road and barge. The Sudanese government continued to ban all air access to Western Upper Nile/Unity State; air access, because of the commencement of the rainy season, was the only way to reach most of the persons recently displaced from the oilfields. The U.N. quickly voided the agreement, but the world was again on 866 “Depopulating Sudan’s Oil Regions,” p. 3, 6. Another human rights investigating team estimated that the government of Sudan had displaced between 50,000 and 75,000 civilians from Rubkona County (Block 1) during this period. “Hiding Between the Streams,” pp. 3, 9, 10.
867 Ibid., p. 4.
868 “Depopulating Sudan’s Oil Regions,” p. 3.
869 WFP/OLS Southern Sector, “Internally Displaced Persons in Southern Sudan,” Briefing document prepared for the U.N. InterAgency Network on IDP’s in Sudan, March 2002, p. 2.
notice of the Sudanese government’s willingness to impede aid to the oil displaced even in the midst of peace talks in Kenya.
Even as independent human rights and humanitarian agencies were documenting the proliferating serious abuses in the oil fields, the U.N. special rapporteurs for human rights in Sudan were also taking official and urgent note.