As South Sudan prepares to become the world's newest country on July 9, international observers and Church officials are trying to prevent genocide from taking place on its disputed border.
“The situation of the people in South Kordofan is extremely critical, especially in the capital Kadugli,” Sudanese Bishop Macram Max Gassis told the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need in an interview made public on June 17.
“After Darfur,” he said, “there is now a new impending genocide in Sudan.”
Sudan's northern government has been bombing the central Sudanese region of South Kordofan since June 6. An anonymous aid worker told the New York Times on Wednesday that northern forces were “killing the black people” there, in retaliation for their support of the south.
“Hundreds of thousands have now fled the area,” said Bishop Gassis, whose diocese includes the embattled border state.
U.N. officials say the recent bombings have displaced around 60,000 people, in addition to nearly 113,000 who have fled from the border city of Abyei since northern troops invaded and occupied it on May 21.
A June 15 U.N. report described a “growing sense of panic among some of the displaced populations who find themselves trapped by the ongoing violence and the ethnic fault lines.”
U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R – N.J.), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, held a hearing on June 16 to discuss several of the problems fueling violence just weeks before South Sudan's official independence day.
“We are nearly on the eve of independence for Southern Sudan, yet many issues remain unresolved,” said Rep. Smith, chairmain of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.
These issues include South Sudan's partially undefined border, questions of citizenship for ethnic southerners living in the north, the sharing of oil revenues between the north and south.
But the most urgent problem may be the northern military attacks, which have continued despite an agreement by both sides reached to demilitarize their border last month.
Princeton Lyman, the U.S. State Department's Special Envoy for Sudan, said during Thursday's hearing that “major consequences for the government and people of (northern) Sudan” would follow, if the Khartoum-based government's “decision to resort to military action” is not “quickly reversed.”
Last month, Sudan's north and south agreed in principle to demilitarize their border region as they seek to establish the exact boundaries of their impending separation. But southern officials say northern attacks have extended at least 12 miles into southern territory.
Colonel Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the southern Sudanese military, told the New York Times that northern soldiers “are occupying what they think the border should be,” in places where the dividing lines “have not been demarcated.”