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Sudanese Civilians Fearful After Government Bombs Village - 2002-07-11

At the end of June, Sudanese government planes bombed a tiny village in the southern part of the country, killing five people and wounding six others, all of them civilians. For the villagers of Malualkan, the attack was another example of the government's disregard for lives.

It should have been a Sunday like any other, a time for the people of Malualkan to put aside their chores and worship at their churches. But it wasn't. The tiny village became a target of the Islamic government.

Antanov planes sent by Khartoum hit the village, pounding it with bombs as people worshipped in churches. Four people were immediately killed, including a blind beggar, and another person died the next day.

Since then, government planes have continued to fly over the village, located in the Bahr el Ghazal region of the country, though they have not carried out any further attacks.

But Ben Odinga of the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, said the people of Malualkan fear another attack will come. "You can see the panic and the desperation on the faces of the people, especially when they are not prepared with their bunkers ready after many years of neglect. People really felt like rats trapped outside with nowhere to really hide when the thing was taking place," he said.

To protect themselves in case of another strike, some villagers have dug simple holes in the ground for shelter; others lay down flat hoping they will be out of harm's way should bombs and shrapnel come flying.

Elisabeth Achul Adet was back at the Episcopal Church of Malualkan this past Sunday. She acknowledged she and the other worshippers were nervous because they heard the Antanovs flying overhead during the morning service. She spoke through an interpreter.

"Everybody cried the time the bomb killed a lot of people. Everybody is crying. They are afraid. Now the church is not full because they are afraid that maybe the Antanovs will bomb on Sunday," she said.

The people of southern Sudan have been living in fear for a long time. For 19 years, Sudan has been torn by a civil war that pits forces of the Islamic government in Khartoum against non-Muslim rebels of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, which are based in the southern part of the country.

The Sudanese government consistently denies that it carries out attacks on civilians. It has said its forces only act in self-defense.

The SPLA said the government had no reason to attack Malualkan as no rebels are based there. But the village does serve as a relief center for the United Nations and other organizations that provide humanitarian aid to the people of southern Sudan.

George Otino Kijana has worked with the International Rescue Committee in Malualkan for more than three years. He said he cannot find any military reason for the attack.

"I never understood why Malualkan [was attacked] because the frontlines are terribly far from here. I believe the Khartoum government is a strong government, they have strong intelligence. They definitely know where the frontlines are. To me, that is where they should be going for. But here, this is a poor village and if you take the statistics of the deaths I have seen and the injuries, 90 percent of them are women and children," he said.

Bombings of civilian targets by Khartoum continue in other areas of southern Sudan. Recently, Antanov planes struck the compound of the Catholic bishop of Torit in the eastern equatorial region of the country and also hit Catholic primary and secondary schools in that same area. Dozens of other confirmed attacks on civilians were reported earlier this year.

Critics of Khartoum's policy said Sudan is the only country in the world that pursues a regular and deliberate policy of bombing and strafing innocent civilians and humanitarian relief efforts. One of these critics, Eric Reeves, an expert on Sudan who teaches at Smith College in the United States, said despite the confirmation of hundreds of such attacks by U.N. personnel, human rights teams, and humanitarian workers, the international community has done little to stop them.

Mr. Kijana, of the International Rescue Committee, said the time has come to put pressure on Sudan.