Is full-scale war imminent between the two Sudans? Weekend reports tell of a renewed bombing campaign by the regime in the north against South Sudanese civilians. And in the most dangerous escalation since South Sudan declared independence last summer, fighting over key oilfields in a disputed border region has brought tensions to a boil.
Meanwhile, the atrocities continue: the north's President Omar al-Bashir, already wanted by the International Criminal Court, is on course to notch up a second war crimes charge. Since mid-2011, his regime has conducted an open policy of ethnic and religious cleansing of non-Muslim Sudanese. As many as 700,000 people face imminent expulsion from the north, having already been refused citizenship because of their religion. In South Kordofan (a restive northern district), 10 months of deliberate bombing and ground assaults have displaced an estimated 350,000 people.
Hiding in caves
A gripping short TV documentary aired in Britain on Friday – now available worldwide – tells of the extraordinary suffering and bravery among the tens of thousands of refugees in South Kordofan's Nuba mountains. Families have sought refuge in caves to escape the bombing. They had already run out of food when the film was shot, two months ago, and children appear terribly malnourished. Here's the trailer for Channel 4's "Terror in Sudan":
Sudan v Sudan?
Reporter Aidan Hartley was present when locals made an incredible discovery: a crashed surveillance drone. It turned out to be Iranian, and inspection of the footage on its internal memory card proved that it had directed attacks by Khartoum's Antonov bombers on civilians in South Kordofan. Hartley also found cluster munitions made in Iran and landmines manufactured by a Greek company – all used against civilians.
Hartley's footage of shrapnel-torn children and farmers bombed as they worked their fields is heartrending. He interviewed the only qualified surgeon in a region of one million people – an ex-US Navy medic from upstate New York called Tom Catena. According to Catena, 80% of the casualties he sees are civilians. The hospital where he works, in Gidel, is sleeping three people to a bed and has run out of food.
Sister Angelina Nkuru, a nurse in the hospital, asks the camera: "Is there nobody there who can see the crying, the tears of these Nuba people? Is there nobody who can speak on their behalf to say 'Stop, people have died enough'? I ask myself, where are the powerful nations, where is the international community, where is the UN security council? Can't they do something to stop this Antonov from coming to kill people?"
'Never again' - except now
In an account of his trip to South Kordofan published on Saturday, Hartley – an east Africa-based journalist with 20 years experience – writes:
What more do we do to apprehend Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir now that he's using his air force to bomb Nuba civilians and deliberately generate a famine? Bashir is already wanted in the Hague for war crimes committed nearly a decade ago in Darfur – but nobody's arrested him.
Do we intervene – impose a no-fly zone – or ask international aid workers to run the gauntlet of Bashir's blitz in order to deliver aid despite Khartoum's ban on all deliveries of food supplies, medicines – even vaccines for babies?
Do we politely ask China to cease buying oil from Bashir's Sudan – because this is indeed a conflict that's partly about oil.
What do we do to embarrass the mandarins at United Nations headquarters in New York – you know, the ones who said "never again" after Rwanda 1994. After all we've been through for a generation, do we really believe the UN is competent or capable to rise to the challenge?
Hartley also reports that, despite predictions of famine, there are no UN aid agencies to be seen. With the approaching rainy season likely to close roads, the prospects of food supplies getting to the Nuba mountains are remote.
Take action: The Irish agency Trócaire is one of the few managing to supply the hospital in the Nuba region. You can donate via its website.