War-ravaged Nubian tribe pleads for aid help aid

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The Independent Online
FROM THE airstrip of Lokkychoggio airport in northern Kenya two Hercules aircraft climb into the sky, taking food aid to the victims of the famine in southern Sudan. Painted United Nations white, they bear the blue logo of the World Food Programme (WFP), a hand clutching ears of corn.

But there is one part of the war-ravaged map of south Sudan that is off- limits to the UN aid effort - the remote and rugged Nuba Mountains. The government of Sudan has banned all aid agencies, including the UN, from going there.

There is no doubt of the need for aid in the Nuba Mountains. Of the original million or so Nuba people, only about 500,000 remain. The rest have been killed, have fled from the war zone or have died of starvation.

Last week, the US House of Representatives voted 416 to 1 for a motion accusing Sudan of genocide against the people of south Sudan. Their anger is based on the fact that the regime is able to dictate where aid may go.

Two small aid groups, Britain's Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Safe Harbour of the United States, specialise in taking aid to areas of south Sudan that are off-limits. In two Cessna light aircraft, they recently flew a consignment of medical aid to a bush airstrip in the area. While a reception party sang a traditional Nuba song of welcome, rebel soldiers threw a protective cordon around the two aircraft.

All the Nuba have fled from government raids in the plains up into the Highlands and the first Nuba villages were two hours away on foot. At Nyakama village, Joseph Kunda, a Nuba medic, said: "Hundreds of people have died in recent months, with no medicines to treat them. Malaria, TB ... We even do amputations, but there are no doctors. It's not acceptable, but we have to do it."

Three widows in the village said they had lost their children. "My child was four months old. I took it to the clinic with fever but couldn't save it," said Naima Kuku. "There was massive famine; I was starving and had no milk for my child. We received no help."

Haida Osmon, Ms Kuku's friend, said: "I don't want to have any more children - because they will probably die too."

Mr Kunda said the medicines in the aid package might last a month. "What the West did in Kosovo is great; but why don't they want to help the people in Sudan?" he asked. "I thought the UN was to help all people in the world. But for 15 years of war, the UN doesn't take care of the Nuba Mountains."

Sudan is a country divided into the largely Arabic, Muslim north and mainly Christian and animist black African south. The Nuba's allegiances lie with the south and they fight with the rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). But the Khartoum regime wants to "Arabise" and Islamicise them.

Abdel Hammid Abbas was until recently a veterinary surgeon in Khartoum, the capital. But he came to join his Nuba brothers in the bush. He calls himself a "soldier-politician.

"The government want to destroy us for two main reasons," he said. "One, our area, the Nuba Mountains, is potentially rich in minerals and fertile soils - so they wish to Arabise us and steal our land. Two, the Nubas in history are the most indigenous people in Sudan. If they destroy us, they believe Sudan will become an Arabic, Islamic state.

"As Nubas, we are Christians and Muslims - we have many of both. The important thing is that we survive as Nubas."

Their fight for survival has continued in isolation from the world. The second in command of the SPLA's Nuba rebels, Youseff Kara Harun, said there had been 22 attacks by government forces this year. But despite being outgunned and outnumbered, the Nuba have held their ground. This has not been without cost.

"Over 3,000 Nuba have been seized this year alone by the government forces," Mr Harun said. He listed the locations of a dozen so-called "peace camps" in the mountains to which the government take captured Nuba.

"They're not peaceful places," Mr Harun said, ironically. "The people are divided in four groups. The boys are taken to be trained as soldiers, to fight for the government. The girls are taken as wives for the soldiers." Three escapers from the peace camps said they were tortured. They describe being immersed in barrels of water and being beaten. They saw other Nubas being tortured to death.

Faruk Ismael, from Ard Kanan village, was held in one of the camps. "I was captured whilst out herding my goats. I was beaten and tortured all over my body with lighted cigarettes. They interrogated us to find out if we were SPLA members, saying, `It's better for you if you tell us the truth'."

A UN delegation reached the Nuba Mountains a few days ago and is still there. The surviving Nuba now have to try to persuade Khartoum to agree to a UN aid programme. Time is not on their side.

n Thousands of Angolans in the besieged city of Huambo face starvation as rebel shelling prevents the resupply of dwindling food stocks, aid officials said. The WFP has only two weeks of emergency food supplies in the central highland capital, where a combination of Unita attacks and the government's military needs has virtually closed the airport to aid flights. The WFP has appealed to the international community for $40m (pounds 25m) to avoid what it said could become widespread starvation in Angola.