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Muslims, Christians targeted by Sudanese strongman al-Bashir in aerial assault

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Nov. 14, 2012: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir waves to people after his arrival at the Khartoum airport in Sudan. Sudanese state television says al-Bashir has returned to the country after undergoing surgery in Saudi Arabia. (AP)

Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir has launched aerial bombardments with increased frequency in the oil-rich Nuba Mountains, where Muslims and Christians alike are being targeted with “tremendous” force, experts told FoxNews.com.

The attacks led by al-Bashir, who remains wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court, have reached their highest levels in the past two months since the conflict began in June 2011. And while it remains very difficult to estimate how many people have died, more than 300,000 people of indigenous ethnic groups known collectively as the Nuba peoples have been displaced in South Kordofan, a province of Sudan, according to Ryan Boyette, a former American aid worker who lives in the region.

“What we’re seeing here is the Sudan forces are getting weak, the morale is down, so they’re doing more bombing,” Boyette told FoxNews.com. “They are trying to demoralize the people within the region by just doing a tremendous amount of bombing.”

Boyette — who runs Nuba Reports, a website dedicated to covering conflict in the Nuba Mountains — said bombing in the region by the Sudanese regime had decreased slightly when South Sudan suspended oil production in January after it accused Sudan of stealing its crude. Sudan, for its part, said it was taking the oil for unpaid transport fees.

“The United States pushed very hard for the north and south to let the oil flow again,” Boyette said. “Immediately after that agreement was signed, we started to see a massive amount of bombing. So now that they’re financially backed and able to back up their operations, I think we’ll see these bombings continue. I don’t see any reason why they’d let up.”

"Khartoum really has no regard for human life.”

- John Eibner, Christian Solidarity International USA

The Nuba Mountains, which cover nearly 20,000 square miles and have virtually no roads, have a strong rebel presence from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) and is extremely ethnically diverse, with roughly 60 to 70 percent of residents identifying as Muslim. The remainder are Christian, Boyette said, which does play a role in the attacks.

“But I don’t think it’s the main reason for the attacks, that these people are Christians,” he said. “That’d be oversimplifying it. But most of the Christian regions are within the SPLM-N-controlled areas.”

A bombardment late last week on the northern part of South Sudan killed at least seven people in three days. More than 27 bombs were dropped by Sudanese Antonov planes in a disputed region near the village of Kiir Adem in northern Bahr el Ghazal State, a spokesman for South Sudan’s military told the Associated Press. The attack, according to the spokesman, violated an agreement signed between the two countries two months ago to end the conflict.

“They have been doing this for a number of years in defiance of the international community,” said Col,. Philip Aguer. “You cannot be wanting peace and bomb innocent civilians.”

Col. Sawarmy Khalid Saad, a Sudanese military spokesman, rejected that claim, saying government forces did not strike the area, but were rather battling rebels nearby in the Rigaibat region in the East Darfur state.

Saad said the accusations were an “open admission” by South Sudan government officials that it supports rebels inside Sudan.

“The presence of the South Sudanese Army in Rigaibat region is flagrant military intervention in our territories and we have full right to deal with it as an aggressive force and this was what has happened,” Saad told the Associated Press.

After decades of war, South Sudan broke away from Sudan last year with an independence vote that was the culmination of a 2005 peace treaty ending a conflict that killed more than 2 million people. Unresolved issues like precise borders and distribution of oil remain as key hurdles for the nations.

But as long as rebel activity exists in the Nuba Mountains, you can expect bombing attacks to continue, John Eibner, CEO of Christian Solidarity International USA, told FoxNews.com.

“They correspond to a well-established pattern,” Eibner said of the attacks. “As long as the rebellion continues and especially as long as Khartoum feels South Sudan is assisting the rebels, there will be these kinds of bombings in borderland areas. Khartoum really has no regard for human life.”

Eibner said he’s unsure what to expect even if al-Bashir — who is known to have health issues — is succeeded in the near term.

“It’s a little bit much to expect that the removal of this man or even his party necessarily solves all these problems,” Eibner told FoxNews.com. “Those who would take his place would have to do something positive to make those changes. You have to change the culture of Sudanese politics.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.