WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) — A U.S.-led team of monitors to Sudan’s civil war this week blasted Khartoum for pursuing a policy to depopulate one of the most oil-rich regions of the country: forcing males into military service, looting towns near a proposed access road to oil fields and abducting and enslaving people who live there.
A report issued Sunday from the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team said that beginning on Dec. 31, government-backed forces had initiated “deliberate attacks against non-combatant civilians and civilian facilities” in areas in Sudan’s Western Upper Nile province. Many of the attacks focused on towns along a road under construction between Bentiu and Adok that would provide access to numerous oil facilities in the province.
The report is the second from the civilian monitors dispatched to Sudan last fall. The monitoring group was formed last year, after President Omar Bashir agreed to the condition that the United States would send in two teams of monitors to investigate reports of attacks on civilians.
Following the agreement, Sudan’s government signed a cease-fire arrangement pledging an end to hostilities through the spring. But the report issued this week suggests the government has not kept its word.
The report details attacks specifically on villages south of Mayom and Mankien by government-aligned militia who raided cattle in these towns, abducted women and children and forced women to provide sexual services. While the Sudanese Defense Ministry response to the report claims that these militias acted on their own without instruction from Khartoum, the report says that in some cases, the government provided “direct support” in the form of artillery and helicopter gunships in Lingara and the villages north of Tam.
The recent wave of attacks are reminiscent of Sudan’s campaigns in the Western Upper Nile and Kordofan Provinces in 1997, when militia and government forces cleared villages to make way for an oil pipeline project to Port Sudan. The pipeline’s majority stake is held by China’s national oil company.
The civilian monitoring team also reported one instance where a senior Sudanese military official told the team that his forces would shoot down surveillance aircraft cleared for a mission by the Foreign and Defense ministries.
In a response to the report, the Sudanese Defense Ministry said it had issued strict orders to military units suspected of aiding militias to desist from attacks on civilians.
On Feb. 4, the government and the main rebel organization, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, signed an agreement that again pledged to a halt to construction of the Bentiu-Adok road until a final comprehensive peace agreement is signed. The Sudanese response says fighting on the proposed road was provoked by rebels, noting that two construction workers were shot dead.
The Feb. 4 agreement also reiterates both sides’ commitment to attempt to return civilians displaced by military raids to their homes.
John Prendergast, the co-director for the International Crisis Group’s Africa program, said in a statement released Monday: “The government’s military strategy is responsive to the degree to which it is challenged by the international community. Military tactics should not be allowed to dictate what happens at the peace table.”