Eric Reeves is the author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.”
Sudan is once again at war with itself — or, more accurately, the ruthless regime in Khartoum is again waging war on peoples at the marginalized peripheries as a means of crushing growing rebellion. The primary target in this widespread conflict is not the people of Darfur, although they continue to languish amid ghastly violence and deprivation. No, these latest targets are the African people of the border regions between northern Sudan and the new Republic of South Sudan: the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Last May, Khartoum’s military seized Abyei, a contested border region where Khartoum had refused to allow a promised referendum on self-determination in January 2011. The seizure displaced virtually the entire indigenous population of Dinka Ngok, more than 110,000 people, who fled to South Sudan, where they remain in poor conditions. Emboldened by the diffident international response to this assault, Khartoum moved in June against the rebels of South Kordofan and, more generally, the African Nuba people.
A bloodbath ensued in Kadugli, the state capital, and Nuba (who Khartoum claimed were “rebel sympathizers”) were relentlessly targeted in house-to-house searches and roadblocks reminiscent of Rwanda. Fighting has now moved to the central Nuba Mountains, where all humanitarian access has been denied by the regime in Khartoum, which continues merciless civilian bombings.
In September, the Sudanese government, still unchecked by international action, launched attacks on yet another region on the border, Blue Nile. Additional hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced, many fleeing to neighboring Ethiopia or South Sudan. They’re in desperate condition, as are refugees from South Kordofan.
For more than seven months Khartoum has denied all international relief to both Blue Nile and South Kordofan, bringing more than half a million people to the brink of starvation. Famine-like conditions are expected by March; children are already dying from malnutrition. Food supplies are exhausted in both regions, with little hope on the horizon: Spring planting and fall harvesting of staple crops were disrupted by aerial attacks. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that the harvests will largely “fail.”
How is this President Obama’s war? What policy responsibility does he bear? In November 2010, his administration announced that it was “de-coupling” Darfur from bilateral negotiations over the issue of greatest strategic interest to Khartoum: its presence on the State Department list of terrorism-sponsoring nations. The decision was an unmistakable signal that Darfur was being “de-coupled” more broadly, which is precisely what occurred. At the same time, the administration pressured South Sudan to “compromise” further on Abyei. Since the South had already compromised repeatedly, this made clear to all parties that the United States had put expediency before principle in steering the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to completion, whatever the consequences for areas outside South Sudan.