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Sudan sticks to its guns

"EVERY word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'". As Mary McCarthy disposed of Lillian Hellman, so has the Sudan government attempted to dispose of the Independent on Sunday, insisting that its report last week on Khartoum's genocidal war against the Nuba people of central Sudan was nothing but "unfounded allegations ... assembled out of Archives [sic] material".

The government similarly claimed that a 350-page report published by the London-based human rights group African Rights after our clandestine three week visit to the Nuba mountains, was "a hate-fabricated fake report assembled from library pictures". I had not visited Sudan for two years, a claim that overlooks two visits with visas and two without; African Rights' Alex de Waal had been expelled on suspicion of espionage, a defamatory claim which de Waal has offered to discuss in court if Sudanese diplomats in London will waive their diplomatic immunity.

But poking fun at Khartoum's inept defence of the accusations made against it conceals the horrible reality of the crimes being committed in the mountains. Khartoum is refusing to engage in a debate about its offensive against the Nuba and instead is living in a looking-glass world where reality is inverted - where Mosques are burned in the name of Islam and Nuba women separated from their menfolk for their own "safety", are then raped by their "liberators".

Roger Winter, director of the US Committee for Refugees, returned from the mountains this week with evidence that Khartoum stepped up its attacks on the Nuba a few weeks after our visit, ordering Antonov bombers into action against civilian targets for the first time this year. The aerial bombardments of the village of Regifi, a farming community we visited an hour's walk from the nearest base of the Nuba rebels of the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army, killed six villagers and wounded 13 - mainly children and old people.

"The Sudan government is actively bombing civilians in areas under SPLA control," Winter said yesterday. "I saw the damage and interviewed wounded survivors at Regifi. The loss of life occurred primarily in two huts. In one hut, nine kids were killed or wounded."

Film of the bombing, in an area the government claims its troops "liberated" two years ago, shows craters 10 feet deep, destroyed and damaged huts, children with head, arm and leg wounds. Winter said he would urge international pressure on Khartoum "to stop attacks on civilians and to open up access," to the mountains, cut off ever since Islamic extremists seized power in Sudan in 1989.

Rebel leaders believe the attack on Regifi was an attempt to seal off the breach in the blockade of the mountains exposed when we flew in with rebel leader Yousif Kuwa. All five bombs dropped in the first attack on Regifi fell close to the village airstrip - one of the few places in the Nuba mountains where planes can land.

One charge the Sudan government has repeatedly ignored is its attack on Islam in the Nuba mountains - the destruction of mosques, the killing of clerics, the burning of Korans. Winter met numerous Islamic leaders who were shocked by this "amazing reality". They asked him: "How can they burn the Koran and still be Muslim."