Blue Nile terror as Sudan air strikes cause havoc

Hannah McNeish

Satdam Anima's eyes flicker and weep as the doctor sews up the stump of his left arm, before he rolls back on the hospital bed, one of the latest victims in Sudan's relentless bombing campaign in Blue Nile state. Dr Evan Atar says he has done seven amputations since war broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and fighters loyal to the SPLM-North in Blue Nile state last month. He has treated more than 600 others for shrapnel wounds. "We are really now running out of supplies. We have been running here and there and crying... But now where to get it from is really an issue," he said. President Omar al-Bashir has blocked foreign aid agencies from entering Blue Nile and nearby South Kordofan state, where a separate conflict between the army and SPLM-North rebels has raged since June. Kurmuk's is the only hospital between neighbouring Ethiopia and Damazin, the state capital of Blue Nile, which remains under SAF control, and Dr Atar is the only doctor. He says the hospital will run out of vital supplies such as saline solution, cotton and gauze this week if no aid arrives, after using up six months' supplies in one. In another hospital bed, 65-year-old Altom Osman is recovering from a deep shrapnel wound in his back and one in his arm after a bomb hit the village of Sali an hour north of Kurmuk. "I was taking some sorghum flour to my wife. We were passing our farm and then the Antonov came immediately and bombed," Osman whispered. Two hours further north, in Maiyas, village chief Khidir Abusita points to a hole a bomb from an Antonov made that he said killed six people, including 55-year-old Hakuma Yousif and her 20-year-old daughter Soura in their hut. "Yesterday there were two Antonovs and they were circling for an hour. We are very scared... We sleep by the river during the day and come back at night," Abusita said. Rebel leader Malik Agar, Blue Nile’s ousted governor and the chairman of the SPLM-North, said he knew of 63 bombs that had hit Kurmuk, and he claimed 74 civilians had been killed and 100 wounded by the air strikes. Agar called the "random bombing" part of a strategy aimed at demoralising the SPLM-North that for years fought alongside the SPLA, ex-southern rebels turned regular army in newly independent South Sudan, during their 22-year conflict with Khartoum. "The strategy is to break the will of the fighters. The civilians are their mothers, their wives, their beloved ones. If you bomb them you will scatter them all over the area," Agar said from a hideout near Kurmuk, the main rebel stronghold. He estimates that half of Blue Nile’s 1.2 million people are now on the move. "The humanitarian aspect is very catastrophic here and this is an area where we need a very quick intervention" by the United Nations, the rebel leader said. The interruption of the harvests and the number of displaced means there is no food in the area, one of Sudan's agricultural heartlands, Agar said. Independent information on the situation in Blue Nile is very difficult to obtain since Khartoum ordered international organisations out of the state. But last week, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said 27,500 displaced people had crossed to Ethiopia from Blue Nile, and it was opening another camp near the Sudanese border to accommodate the new arrivals. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has also launched a $3.5-million appeal to help 235,000 people on the brink of starvation in Sudan's embattled southern border region, because of fighting in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. "When I hear the Antonov coming I’m really scared. I look for my children and I run inside," said 21-year-old Huwa Gundi as she sits on a sheet next to a makeshift tent. She fled from the village of Sali after it was bombed, and says the family has for weeks been living off sorghum porridge, which they found in abandoned farmhouses. Agar called on the UN to pressure Bashir into "stopping the bombing of the civilians" and opening humanitarian corridors in the war-affected areas, while urging the government to return to mediated negotiations. But Bashir himself said last month that Sudan would never again negotiate "under UN supervision," and vowed to crush the rebellion. Like many others in Kurmuk, Dr Atar fears the Antonov bombs will soon be replaced by shelling if the conflict persists, while hunger levels continue to rise among Blue Nile's frightened inhabitants.