Satellite images reveal signs of mass graves on South Sudan border

Northern army accused of killing anti-government civilians

Previously unseen satellite images showing what appear to be fresh mass graves in a troubled Sudanese border state have provided new evidence that the country's army has taken part in the deliberate butchering of civilians opposed to the government.

The new images, gathered by the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), were taken in Southern Kordofan state, on the border with the newly independent South Sudan. The Sudanese army has laid siege to anti-government groups there for weeks.

The group, which is backed by the actor George Clooney, says the pictures show a number of white bundles lying inside pits in the earth which are consistent with human remains held in plastic sheets or tarpaulins.

SSP also says it has discovered two new sites in the past week near the town of Kadugli, bringing the total number of what it says are "mass graves" to eight. No estimates were given for the number of bodies they might contain.

The group says its satellite images are corroborated by eyewitness accounts, including one person who told SSP they saw a yellow excavator used to dig grave pits – into which bodies were then dumped.

SSP says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Sudanese Red Crescent Society and the International Committee of the Red Cross have confirmed that "mass body recovery and disposal" has been going on in Kadugli.

"Satellite imagery shows the dumping and subsequent burials of what appear to be white bundles of human dimensions," the report says.

The fighting in Southern Kordofan erupted in the lead up to the independence of South Sudan, which separated on 9 July after decades of civil war.

Southern Kordofan, home to the ethnic Nuba group, is a border state with the newly formed nation and is seen by Khartoum as brimming with anti-government fighters.

Rights organisations, local church groups and foreign activists say Sudan's army has used troops, tanks and a campaign of airstrikes against civilians and alleged rebel positions, with reports emerging of systematic intimidation and killing.

Khartoum has repeatedly denied it targets civilians. The United Nations has said that if the allegations were accurate they could amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes.

SSP was set up by Clooney and other activists specifically to monitor for possible war crimes around the division of Sudan into two nations.

The group says that as well as the murder of civilians its unique images show the wilful destruction of property by Sudan's army in border areas, with a spike in incidents over the past three months.

John Prendergast, a former US State Department official who is involved with the monitoring group, told The Independent: "This is simply a continuation of the approach Khartoum has taken with any restive population anywhere in Sudan. Aerial bombardment, denial of emergency aid, targeting civilians on the basis of their ethnicity, have all been trademark tactics the regime has used for 22 years.

"Usually, though, there isn't hard evidence. The satellite imagery provides that. We've seen the world act in response to human rights issues in Egypt, Libya and Syria. When will the people of Sudan get their turn?"

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