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Satellites expose Sudan Armed Forces in embattled capital of South Kordofan

George Clooney's satellite images provide more evidence of Sudan troop buildup.
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Cows drink from a pond of water in the town of Kadugli in the Sudanese oil-producing state of South Kordofan on May 3, 2011. There is increasing violence by the Sudan Armed Forces in South Kordofan Province, according to eyewitnesses, and a buildup of Sudan Armed Forces, according to images provided by the Satellite Sentinel Project. (Ashraf Shazly /AFP/Getty Images)

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir just won't give up.

He's already indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Sudan's western Darfur province. Bashir is also accused of aggression in South Sudan's troubled Abyei border region.

Now there are new, disturbing reports of Bashir using the Sudan Armed Forces against the civilian population in the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan's South Kordofan province.

Bashir says he has ordered an offensive in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan to capture Abdel Aziz Adam Al-Hilu, the leader of the main opposition group Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement. Hilu had been the deputy governor of South Kordofan province but he refused to concede defeat in elections to Bashir's candidate, charging that the voting was rigged. Bashir claims that Hilu is waging a violent campaign against the Sudan government. Bashir is ordering his troops to capture Hilu and subdue the SPLM forces.

But many accounts accuse Bashir's troops of killing civilians and trying to purge the Nuba Mountains of the Nuba people because they voted strongly in favor of independence for South Sudan in the January referendum, according to mounting evidence. There had been a peace agreement to stop fighting in South Kordofan, but Bashir's troops are not honoring the ceasefire.

Bashir has barred the United Nations and other humanitarian groups from South Kordofan, preventing full reporting of the alleged atrocities being committed. 

The Satellite Sentinel Project has identified an apparent convoy of Sudan Armed Forces vehicles and towed artillery, stretching more than a mile in length. The convoy looks like an infantry unit of at least regiment size — about 1,000 troops — in Kadugli, capital of Sudan's conflict-ridden border region of South Kordofan.

The apparent convoy is pointed north, although its origin, destination and total length remain unknown.

Harvard Humanitarian Initiative's analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery captured on July 4 identifies three SAF aircraft at the Kadugli airfield, including an Antonov — a Russian-built plane used by the the Sudan forces in bombing campaigns — and two Hind helicopter gunships. The presence of the helicopter gunships corroborates reports that the Sudan forces have used helicopters to hunt the Nuba people in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan. Also visible at the Kadugli airfield is an Ilyushin Il-76, a Russian-built cargo plane of a type used to transport heavy equipment.

"Less than a week after signing yet another agreement, the Sudanese regime appears to be ignoring its commitment, holding to form, and positioning military assets for intensified offensive operations," said Enough Project co-founder John Prendergast. "This cycle will continue to be played out with increasingly destructive results for Sudanese civilians until the international community stiffens its spine and imposes swift and severe repercussions for the endless cycle of violence the Khartoum regime continues to fuel."

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US urged to provide air cover to South Sudan

Obama administration pressed to protect South Sudan from Khartoum aggression.
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South Sudanese officers look at an air defense rocket system displayed at the MILEX-2011 arms and military equipment exhibition in Minsk on May 24, 2011. (Viktor Drachev /AFP/Getty Images)

What can be done about the violence that Sudan President Omar al-Bashir's regime is inflicting on the border to South Sudan?

It's obvious to all that Bashir is up to the same dirty tricks that he played in Darfur — using militias, the army, the air force against ordinary subsistence farmers in order to claim control of their land. George Clooney's Satellite Sentinel Project is providing plenty of photographs that prooved beyond a shadow of a doubt the Khartoum government's buildup troops and tanks along the disputed Abyei area. And then the satellite photos showed the expected attacks on villages and settlements.

It has created a burgeoning refugee problem as thousands of families in the border area flee for their lives.

Yet no decisive response has come from the international community.

The activist group the Enough Project is urging the Obama administration to immediately begin preparations to provide air defense capabilities to the government of South Sudan when it becomes independent. Enough is also urging the Obama administration to ramp up an array of new financial sanctions aimed at the heart of the Bashir regime's military-industrial complex.

"The threat to civilians across Sudan in the weeks before the South becomes independent on July 9, 2011, is increasingly dire, and in the absence of international support for robust measures to protect civilians from conflict, it is imperative that the United States and its allies uphold the international responsibility to protect," said Enough in a statement just released. 

“War has resumed in Sudan due to the offensive military operations launched by Khartoum,” said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project. “The current policy of offering carrots to the Sudan government has failed. President Obama should deploy immediate consequences for Khartoum’s escalation, and in the absence of international support to protect civilians, provide support to South Sudan to deter further air attacks.”

The Government of South Sudan has repeatedly asked the United States for air defense capabilities, and according to the Congressional Research Service, President George W. Bush approved this request in 2008. But it was not delivered. By fulfilling this request, the Obama administration can immediately impact the calculations of the actors in the North who have chosen to pursue military operations in violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, as well as in Darfur, partly because of the military advantage afforded by their dominance of the airways, said Enough.

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