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Sudanese Bishop Urges End to Attacks on Civilians

FILE - A Sudan People's Liberation Movement soldier, wounded in a Sudanese air force bombing in South Kordofan, lies in a hospital in Gidel, April 30, 2012.

A prominent Sudanese Catholic bishop is pressing for an immediate end to what he says are indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the Nuba and Blue Nile regions of Sudan.

Retired Bishop Marcam Gassis, speaking to reporters in Nairobi, said there has been a wave of aerial bombardments in the last two weeks targeting the people of South Kordofan. He cited eyewitness accounts of an Oct. 16 attack by government warplanes that killed seven people and wounded dozens at a busy market in Heiban, in the Nuba Mountains.

Gassis said the latest bombings represented a notable increase in attacks on civilians.

"Last year's season was especially bloody, with almost 800 bombs dropped in the region,” he said. “The bombings have already started this year, with 15 bombs dropped two weeks ago on the village of Mardes. ... All the indicators are that a new cycle of violence and bombardment is commencing."

In June, U.S. officials accused the Sudanese government of stepping up its aerial attacks on civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Ethnic minority rebels from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement have been fighting government forces in those two states for more than three years, in a conflict that has affected more than 1 million people.

In 2009, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for atrocities committed in Darfur. The Sudanese leader was the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC.

Gassis said the Sudanese government should not force policies on ethnic minorities that destroy their culture and religion. Instead, he said, minority communities should be accepted as they are.

Trying to unite Sudan by imposing Arabic language, customs and traditions ”is not the way to build a nation,” Gassis said. “In Arabic, they say religion is for God and the country is for all. So the country is for all. We don't distinguish between tribes, between ethnic groups. We are children of the same nation."

The retired bishop called on al-Bashir, his government and rebels to sit down and negotiate a just, peaceful solution to end the cycle of violence.