UM SERDIBA, SOUTH KORDOFAN, SUDAN —
Sudan’s military has subjected villagers in the country’s rebel-controlled Nuba Mountains to an intensifying bombing campaign, beleaguered villagers say.
Residents of Um Serdiba, a front-line village in the war-torn state of South Kordofan, report stepped-up shelling and bombings since late December – soon after Sudan’s armed forces were pushed back in ground battles with rebels from the banned Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) party.
The Khartoum government, which has been battling the rebels since 2011, has increased its attacks in the past two weeks, residents say.
An estimated 185,000 civilians live within range of Sudanese military guns, and shelling has become a daily occurrence.
As this journalist’s vehicle sped toward Um Serdiba recently, a bomb from an Antonov warplane fell less than a kilometer away. Children from the local primary school stood and watched.
Um Serdiba residents say they have suffered more than 130 civilian casualties since the beginning of the year.
The most intense artillery shelling came February 3. That morning, six children arrived at Mother of Mercy, the only operating hospital, after a single artillery shell landed on their home at 4 a.m. Three other children were killed instantly. The children had been sleeping in a foxhole, dug under the house as a bomb shelter.
The hospital’s head doctor said civilian injuries have increased since the beginning of the year.
"There has been an increase in the number of noncombatants injured" by artillery shelling or bombs dropped by Antonovs, said the doctor, who asked not to be identified for this story. "… I think a lot of it is because SAF [Sudanese Armed Forces] ground forces have been defeated. So, you know, they are sitting back and bombing and shelling, just as a terror campaign."
Those wounded by bombs or artillery in the past two weeks have been "either children or adult females – young, some elderly adult females. None of them have been combatants," the doctor said.
An exposed target
Villagers report government artillery, jet fighters and Antonov bombers have been targeting the area daily.
Um Serdiba is just 10 kilometers from the front line in Kadugli. The flat savannah offers no protection from heavy guns.
Almost every household here has been affected. But many residents refuse to leave, believing nowhere else is safe.
The village is rife with burned crops. Every few meters, shrapnel and bomb craters mark the ground. Each has its own story.
One mother showed where she and 12 children take cover in a drainage ditch. A nearby crater was made by a MIG jet fighter.
Fighting has changed
Um Dorein County Commissioner Mawia Ibrahim said the nature of this fighting is evolving.
"It’s not like previous years of the war. There is a difference," the commissioner said. "The Sudanese troops intensified the shelling and the bombardment. It is because they lost the ground. They lost the attacks and a lot of equipment and troops.
"So all they can do now is use the long-range missiles to reach where there are civilians," the official continued. "They are not even targeting the rebel barracks. They are only affecting the civilians. Most of the casualties now are the civilians."
Civilian areas are supposed to be marked and avoided by Sudan’s troops. The Khartoum government has repeatedly denied targeting civilians. It also has blockaded humanitarian aid to the rugged mountain region.