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Satellite Spots Torched Sudanese Village

  • Joe DeCapua

Satellite image of El Feid, South Kordofan State, Sudan, showing burned village

Satellite image of El Feid, South Kordofan State, Sudan, showing burned village

Satellite images of Sudan’s South Kordofan State indicate a village in the Nuba Mountains may have been the target of political violence.

The state is scheduled to hold a gubernatorial election in early May. Rival candidates have traded charges over attacks on the village that reportedly killed 20 people.

Nathanial Raymond, director of operations for the Satellite Sentinel Project at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, analyzed the images.

“What the images in our most recent report are showing is the apparent intentional burning of the town of el-Feid,” he said, “The home of Abdelaziz al-Hilu, who is the deputy governor of South Kordofan State and the representative of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in South Kordofan.”

The incumbent state governor, Ahmed Haroun, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for, charged with war crimes in Darfur in western Sudan.

“What we see is clear evidence of intentional burning of approximately 356 structures. Many of them are likely civilian dwellings,” he said.

Telltale signs

Analysts looked for two specific pieces of evidence that the fires were intentionally set.

“One,” he said, “is the lack of intervening scorch marks between structures in the burned areas. And the second piece of evidence is the fact that you have some areas that are burned set far back from clusters of buildings that have also been burned. And what that means is that it is indicative of someone going from a house to another house and so forth, walking a distance and burning selectively.”

Hilu has said the attack on el-Feid was done by the northern-aligned Popular Defense Force, which is under Haroun’s command.

Raymond said, “At this point the lack of on-the-ground information makes that difficult for us to confirm. But what is clear is that whatever happened at el-Feid was intentional and destroyed a lot of structures in that village.”

Unable to confirm civilian casualties

“Satellite images can do a lot. But there are some things that on-the-ground reporting can only do, which is to develop basically a timeline of alleged events. What we can see is the aftermath. There needs to be a full and impartial investigation on the ground,” he said.

Satellite images also show evidence of burning in Um Barmbita, about 15 to 20 kilometers northwest of el-Feid. But analysts have not yet been able to confirm whether it, too, was intentional.

After studying the latest and past satellite images of violence in Sudan, Raymond said, “Sudan is on the knife’s edge…. These events in South Kordofan are disturbing and suggest the potential for further violence.”