Representatives from Sudan's Nuba Mountains are holding a two-day conference in Kenya's capital highlighting the plight of people in their region, where extensive aerial bombardments and fighting have been going on since June of last year.
Arnu Ngutulu, spokesman for the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, paints a grim picture of the situation on the ground for the past 10 months.
“More than 1,000 Antonov bombs dropped in the Nuba Mountains, targeting civilian populations, killing many children and women and elderly people. More than 400,000 displaced people, 30,000 of them are in South Sudan, and in Blue Nile, same number, or even more,” Ngutulu said.
The Antonov airplanes are from the Sudanese armed forces, which began bombing and shelling the Nuba Mountains, which are located in Southern Kordofan state, last June.
Zeinab Balandia is executive director of Vision Organization, a Nuba Mountains women’s group that is located temporarily in Uganda’s capital.
“There is a high need for protection of civilians, taking into account the specific needs of women and young girls, because they are subjected to different kinds of violence, gender-based violence, and they are subjected to exploitation. They are also facing the problem of rape (and) sexual harassment in different situations,” Balandia said.
Communities in the Nuba Mountains and other areas have long been at odds with the Sudanese government, accusing it of marginalizing and discriminating against them. Although the Nuba Mountains are located in Sudan, people there tend to relate more to South Sudan, which achieved independence from the north in July last year following many years of bitter civil war.
The SPLM-North accuses the Sudanese government of blocking humanitarian access to the mountains, where people are going hungry and medical services are few. The Sudanese government says that rebels have closed the road, stopping aid from reaching those who need it.
The United Nations Security Council and rights group Amnesty International have called on Sudan's government to give aid agencies immediate access to Southern Kordofan and to the nearby state of Blue Nile, where rebels are also fighting the government.
The SPLM-North's Ngutulu calls for what he terms “corridors for humanitarian access,” saying that aid delivery should not be tied to progress with political negotiations.
“The international community should not wait for the government of Sudan to respond when and where our people are starving. This is a very clear message: we need to rescue these people, we need to go in without any permission from the government of Sudan, we need to heal people as humanitarian workers,” Ngutulu said.
The two-day conference, opening in Nairobi Friday, is organized by a group called the Nuba Diaspora. The group held a one-day hunger strike and a march Friday to raise awareness, and have planned cultural events for Saturday.
The group has hosted a week-long exhibit, featuring photos from the U.S.-based Satellite Sentinel Surveillance Project, showing bombed-out homes, the burning of villages, and mass graves in several locations in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.