Sudanese regime bombs its own people in attack on bustling marketplace

Sept. 15, 2012: Refugees wait in line to receive packages of food that had been air-dropped by the World Food Programme (WFP) the previous day, in Yida camp, South Sudan.

Sept. 15, 2012: Refugees wait in line to receive packages of food that had been air-dropped by the World Food Programme (WFP) the previous day, in Yida camp, South Sudan.

The Sudanese government bombed its own people in a crowded marketplace Thursday morning, witnesses told, even as the rogue nation’s president met in Ethiopia for peace talks.

A witness told the attack on a bustling bazaar that killed one civilian and injured six others was just the latest in a series of attacks on poverty-stricken villages by the rogue regime of President Omar al-Bashir. Wanted for war crimes and genocide for his troops’ actions in Darfur, al-Bashir has mounted a campaign of terror against his own people in the years before the southern portion of the North African country seceded a year ago.

The attack came even as al-Bashir, who is wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court, and his South Sudan counterpart, Salva Kiir, were meeting in Ethiopia to reach a deal to allow oil to flow across the vague border separating the nations, which were divided last year amid an ongoing and bloody civil war. The agreement, signed on Thursday in Addis Ababa, will allow South Sudan to send its oil to market using Sudanese pipelines. More importantly, it could establish a demilitarized buffer zone in the rugged boundary between the two nations where allegiances don't comport with a map. But even as they met, al-Bashir's bombing raid was aimed at rooting out South Sudanese — and mainly Christian — sympathizers residing on his side of the border.


Both al-Bashir and Kiir skipped the U.N. General Assembly in New York to conduct ongoing talks being held in Ethiopia’s capital since late Tuesday. But the latest bombing — where residents from more than 20 nearby villages routinely host a market every Thursday to sell what few possessions they have to buy food — threatened to scuttle those talks and plunge the region deeper into humanitarian crisis.

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“The market is very popular and is common knowledge,” Ryan Boyette, a former American aid worker who lives in the region and witnessed the attack told “I am sure the Sudan government knew that it was [m]arket day in Heiban and that is why they bombed it. Another interesting point is that the plane came straight in and dropped all 6 bombs at one time. Normally the plane circles once and then drop[s] its bombs, but this time it dropped on the first approach, not giving any warning.”

While South Sudan's independence has been recognized by the United Nations, pockets along the ill-defined new border dividing the country have been gripped by battles between the rebel SPLA-North — once allied with what is now South Sudan’s military — and the Sudan Armed Forces. The ongoing violence has sent tens of thousands streaming into South Sudan, where the population of one camp in Yida has skyrocketed from 17,000 to roughly 65,000 refugees since February.

Boyette said efforts to establish a buffer zone along the border, which has never been finalized, have so far failed. Al-Bashir, who has been in office since 1993, has sought to root out Sudanese villagers and security forces he believes sympathize with South Sudan. Much of that effort has taken place in the region of South Kordofan, where the Heiban bombing took place.

But, according to Boyette, “if the fighting in South Kordofan is really just a proxy war ... then why would Sudan bomb a market full of civilians at the same hour they were signing an agreement with South Sudan?”

Boyette, who runs Nuba Reports, a website dedicated to covering the war along Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, told the female victim was Hassia Karri Kuku, a mother of seven. In all, Sudanese war planes have dropped at least 81 bombs on 11 villages since early August and area hospitals are seeing the highest numbers of malnourished children since last year, he said.

Andudu Adam Elnail, bishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, told that bombardments of civilians are an everyday occurrence in the poverty-stricken and violence-plagued region.

“The situation is especially bad in the Nuba Mountains,” Elnail said by phone from Denver. “We have been trying for the international community to stop the bombings of civilians but Bashir is determined to not only continue the bombings, but to prohibit international organizations to give aid to the Nuba people.”

Those who live in or near the Nuba Mountains, which are valued for their gold, oil and uranium, are growing increasingly hungry and suffering from a lack of basic services, Elnail said.

“The number [of refugees] is growing and that is the wish of the government, to drive people out of the Nuba Mountains,” he said. “There is no action taken against [al-Bashir] and he continues to violate human rights.”

On Tuesday, three people were killed, including a 3-year-old child, when the area of Fanga in East Africa was struck by an aerial attack from Sudanese forces, reports. A military spokesman confirmed that the bombing occurred near Fanga’s market, causing residents to flee to nearby valleys and creeks.

Also on Tuesday, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters during a press conference in Geneva that the agency was “extremely concerned” about the safety of refugees in Yida, South Sudan.

"The presence of a refugee settlement in highly militarized border areas close to a conflict zone hampers efforts to preserve the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum," Fleming said, adding that the safety of the refugees in Yida could not be guaranteed.

As the violence continues, UNHCR officials anticipate the camp will reach an estimated 80,000 inhabitants by the end of the year. Some 105,000 refugees could also soon be cut off by the rainy season’s heavy downpours and subsequent flooding.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.