14 school children perish in bomb attack
The Sudan Catholic Bishops' Regional Conference (SCBRC) Justice and Peace Task Force has denounced the killing of 14 school children and their teacher in a latest bomb attack by Sudan government in the Kauda area of the Nuba Mountains.
The Task Force, formed following this year's SCBRC meeting in Nairobi, described the attack as a horrendous act and a perpetuation of genocide on innocent children. Bishop Johnson Akio Mutek, the Auxiliary Bishop of Torit, chairs the Task Force. The SCBRC brings together the Catholic Bishops working in the SPLA/M-controlled areas. They are; Mutek, Joseph Gasi of Tambura-Yambio, Caesar Mazzolari of Rumbek, and Erkolano Lodu Tombe of Yei.
Others are Paride Taban of Torit and Max Macram Gassis of El-Obeid.
The raid on Holy Cross Primary School came just days after the latest round of peace talks in Nairobi, Kenya, under the aegis of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) forum, and has raised serious questions about Khartoum's commitment to a peaceful solution to the Sudanese crisis.
The 9 am (Sudan time) attack on February 8 left 14 pupils and one teacher dead. Scores of others were injured with 17 of them requiring treatment at the nearby German Emergency Doctors' dispensary. The raid further heightened the ever-present feeling of apprehension since nobody can tell when the next one will be. Unfortunately and as expected, the bad news did not reach the rest of the world till several days later when journalists based in Nairobi managed to sneak into the area for just over one hour. The Nuba Mountains remains one of the most isolated regions on earth.
Witnesses said the victims of the early morning raid were taking a lesson under a tree on the school compound on the fateful day. The bomb dropped just 10 metres from where the English lesson was being conducted.
Another school in Kauda was on July 17 last year, the scene of a similar aerial raid, which claimed the lives of eight school children, seven girls and a boy.
Why the attack?
What prompted this latest heinous act is a question many are still asking. Was it meant to revenge the earlier killing of a faithful government commander from the Nuba by the SPLA in the Nuba Mountains? Could it have been a message to the local Catholic Bishop Max Macram Gassis, that Khartoum was not moved by the awareness on the tribulations of the Nuba that he was creating the world over? Was it meant to strengthen Khartoum's position ahead of the next round of Igad talks or was it just the government's routine way of conducting the now 17-year-old civil war?
At the time of the bombardment, Bishop Macram was still in the USA where he was on February 2, 2000 presented with the 12th annual William Wilberforce Award from Prison Fellowship. He won the prize for his efforts to end religious persecution in Sudan.
The yearly award is given in honour of William Wilberforce, an 18th-century British parliamentarian who stood against his party and fellow parliamentarians in his campaign to abolish the slave trade.
One thing that all seem to agree on is that the school was the intended target. Several eyewitnesses recounted how on February 5, another plane had surveyed the area flying at a relatively low height. And in any case, the makeshift school is in a fairly isolated area with no other visible structures in the vicinity.
Nuba Mountains: Scene of government oppression
The definition of the Nuba Mountains, at the geographical centre of the war-torn African state, remains one of the most contentious issues in the Igad deliberations. The Nuba live in an area that covers some 30, 000sqkm and speak more than 40 dialects.
After many years of subjugation characterised by cultural re-orientation, the Nuba made a bold move to determine their own destiny by joining the SPLA. The military regime of president Omar Hassan el-Bashir, has since retaliated without any mercy and with total disregard to any conventions that govern human relations even in a war situation.
For over a decade now, no relief agency has been allowed to operate in the region where aerial and ground raids on both civilian and military targets have become the norm. In fact it is illegal to go to the Nuba Mountains and those who go there do so at their own risk.
Thousands of the Nuba have been forcibly uprooted from their villages to veritable concentration camps, which Khartoum conveniently refers to as peace camps. In the camps, they are forced to abandon their culture and adopt Arabic ways. Women and girls are forced to become wives to the Arabs. In this way, the Nuba are not only denied a chance to contribute to the SPLA's liberation efforts, but the future generations are also expected to be more Arab in their looks and culture and hence with more allegiance to the north.
Man made famine
For a semblance of security, the Nuba people have had to abandon the fertile valleys for the top of the hills, which act as natural fortresses with only a few secret access routes. A handful of dirt airstrips remain their only link with the rest of world. However, these too have lately been targeted for frequent raids making the Nuba country more and more inaccessible. A vicious circle of famine persists in the Nuba Mountains as only minimal cultivation can take place on the rugged terrain. Their isolation also means inaccessibility to modern agricultural tools and viable seeds.
In recent years, Khartoum has added anti-personnel mines to its armoury, mining those areas of the Nuba Mountains that it captures and cannot hold. Consequently, scores of civilians have suffered injuries that have prompted amputation in the handful of rudimentary first-aid clinics in the region. Several civilians whose villages, wells and fields have been turned into minefields have found themselves condemned to a life of permanent displacement, unable to return to their homes except at risk of life or a limb.
Interestingly, all these acts of unprovoked aggression seem to be intensifying despite countless government pledges to the UN to the contrary.
After UN secretary-general Koffi Annan visited Khartoum in 1998, the government promised to allow relief flights to the Nuba Mountains. It was not until after a year's wait that a UN team was allowed to go the Nuba Mountains to assess the situation. By last December, the team had completed its findings and made recommendations on what should be done to ameliorate the bad situation. It is now the second month of the New Year, yet no known relief operations have been allowed to reach this region desperately crying for international intervention.
Solidarity with people in distress
The SCBRC Task Force sent a message of condolence to the bereaved families and thanked all the organisations and people who continue to risk their lives in showing solidarity with the Nuba people. The Task Force further condemned all other acts of violence against the civilian populations in the Nuba Mountains and southern Sudan by conventional or chemical weapons.
Stand on south Sudan wrong
The opposition of some NGOs working in south Sudan to the US government's humanitarian gesture towards south Sudan as reported recently was a very unfortunate action.
While south Sudan appreciates any genuine humanitarian aid to its oppressed and hungry people, it, however, deplores any aid done mainly on self-interest and profit.
In any conflict the line between neutrality and involvement is very thin indeed. The south Sudan situation must be compared with Kosovo in the Balkans and East Timor in South East Asia.
For 200 years the people of south Sudan have always been under foreign oppression. The domination took place in three phases. One, people were humiliated and enslaved by the Turks, Arabs and some Europeans. Two, they were colonised by the British and Egyptian condominium. Three, they are being oppressed and dominated by Northern Sudan under the knowledge of the UN and the OAU. Domination is humiliation of the people, which causes much pain and suffering.
Today, south Sudan is the only region in Africa, which is still under foreign oppression and domination. It struggles for fundamental justice, that is freedom and human dignity just like any other human beings on earth. Its poverty is man-made and needs to be challenged.
The UN and OAU do not want to recognise south Sudan as a state. The people of south Sudan do not agree. In the Juba Conference of 1947, south Sudan rejected unity with north Sudan. The independence of Sudan on January 1, 1956 did not include South Sudan. The UN and OAU need to recognise the reality. The clause in the OAU Charter to preserve colonial boundaries in Africa was an unfortunate development in the freedom struggle.
The SPLM/A is de facto in charge of south Sudan. It needs to dialogue with those NGOs which seem not to understand the legitimate struggle of south Sudan for freedom and dignity. In case one is unsympathetic to the noble cause then one has no reason to work in south Sudan.
Thomas Oliha Attiya, Isiolo, Kenya
Re-printed from Kenya's Daily Nation
SUDAN CATHOLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
Bethany House, P. O. Box 21102, Nairobi, Kenya
tel. +254.2.577595 or 577949, fax 577327
For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.577595 - fax +254.2.577327 - e-mail: SCIO@MAF.Org