Sudan's civil war has endured for 18 years. Rebel armies in southern Sudan continue to fight against Sudanese government forces and their militia in a bid for political autonomy or independence for southern Sudan. The long war is complicated by violent military and ethnic divisions among southerners. Numerous southern commanders have repeatedly changed allegiances during the conflict, and some northern groups opposed to the government have formed a military alliance with southern rebels. The combination of constant war and periodic droughts has caused serious food shortages. The government and rebel armies have manipulated massive amounts of international relief aid that flows into the country.

The war has left an estimated 2 million persons dead in southern and central Sudan since 1983. At the beginning of 2001, approximately 4 million Sudanese were internally displaced, and 420,000 Sudanese were refugees in neighboring countries. Despite the war, some 360,000 refugees from other countries resided in Sudan.

Political/Military/Human Rights Developments through September

The war persisted during the first nine months of 2001. Rebels launched a military offensive in the south's Bahr el-Ghazal Province, capturing two towns. Pro-government militia also launched attacks in Bahr el-Ghazal Province. Armed clashes continued near oil fields in southern Sudan's Western Upper Nile Province pitting government forces, pro-government militia, rebels, and anti-rebel southern troops against each other. Splits within the local ethnic Nuer population also fed the violence.

The government continued to extract oil in the war zone, providing the government with substantial new revenue that enabled it to double its military expenditures compared to 1998. Human rights advocates charged that the government military used airplane runways and roads built by international oil companies to attack the local population. "Across the oil-rich regions of Sudan, the government is pursuing a 'scorched earth' policy to clear the land of civilians and to make way for the exploration and exploitation of oil by foreign oil companies," a report by a British relief agency, Christian Aid, stated in early 2001.

Government planes continued to bomb civilian and humanitarian sites in southern Sudan, although reportedly less frequently than last year. Various sources reported that up to 40 aerial bombings occurred during May-July, including attacks against camps for displaced persons. The Sudanese government announced a bombing cessation on May 24 but proclaimed a bombing resumption on June 11.

The U.S. government continued a thorough review of its policy toward Sudan. In September, President Bush appointed former U.S. Senator John Danforth as a special envoy to search for peace in Sudan. "Sudan is a disaster for all human rights. We must turn the eyes of the world upon the atrocities in Sudan," Bush said. The Bush Administration stated in April that improved relations with Sudan hinged on an end to the Sudanese government's aerial bombings of civilian targets, fewer restrictions by Sudanese authorities on humanitarian aid deliveries to the south, and elimination of international terrorist organizations based in Sudan. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the "Sudan Peace Act" in June, which would attempt to bar international oil companies from operating in Sudan. A Senate version of the bill was still under consideration. In late September, the UN Security Council lifted sanctions in effect since 1996 against Sudanese diplomats and Sudanese aircraft.

UNICEF stated in February that it was helping to demobilize 2,500 rebel child soldiers. Some observers criticized UNICEF's handling of the demobilization and expressed skepticism whether some of the children were combatants.

New Uprooted Populations through September

Many of Sudan's 4.4 million uprooted people have fled repeatedly from place to place during the course of the long civil war. At least 150,000 additional people became uprooted during the first eight months of 2001, according information pieced together from various field reports.

Aid workers reported that 55,000 newly displaced people fled from 48 villages in southern Sudan's conflicted oil zone during 2000 and early 2001. A rebel military offensive in Bahr el-Ghazal Province in early 2001 pushed 50,000 people from their homes. Some 40,000 residents of central Sudan's Nuba Mountains region fled government military attacks during the first eight months of the year. Smaller numbers of people fled their homes temporarily because of aerial bombing attacks.

Humanitarian Conditions through September

"There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth today," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated at a congressional hearing about Sudan in March. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom warned at the same hearing that "the situation in Sudan has grown worse."

The UN World Food Program (WFP) stated that "we have a looming crisis on our hands," with 3 million Sudanese nationwide facing food shortages. "The food security situation is worsening more quickly than expected," WFP warned. Humanitarian aid workers expressed concern about potential famine in Western Upper Nile Province of southern Sudan. The town of Bentiu, a magnet for displaced families in Sudan's oil-producing region, suffered 24 percent malnutrition, according to WFP. Inadequate distributions of food relief triggered violence among competing populations and competing armies in Western Upper Nile Province, prompting some local leaders there to request that food deliveries be suspended. Crop failures and livestock deaths in and near the key southern town of Juba might worsen malnutrition among 200,000 local residents, one international relief agency reported in February. Catholic bishops in southern Sudan urged aid agencies to establish emergency feeding centers in addition to aid drops of food to assist 30,000 newly uprooted people from 17 villages. WFP reported that it was able to deliver 12,000 tons of food aid during May – less than half the 28,000 tons needed by local populations.

Funding shortages and security risks continued to impede humanitarian efforts during the first nine months of 2001. WFP appealed to international donors for $135 million but received only a fraction of that amount. Sudanese government officials regularly blocked relief assistance to about 15 locations and placed new restrictions on UN humanitarian flights to the village of Mapel, a key staging point for relief flights in the south. The Sudanese government threatened to place visa restrictions on international aid staff seeking to enter the country. Some relief workers complained that UN officials were too passive in pushing for humanitarian access to conflict areas in Western Upper Nile Province.

Pro-government combatants in southern Sudan took four aid workers hostage for a week in March. A pilot for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed in May when undisclosed persons fired on his plane, forcing a temporary suspension of all Red Cross flights. Bombs dropped from a Sudanese military plane nearly hit a food-laden UN relief plane in mid-air in June, forcing cancellation of a food delivery. ICRC staff evacuated a medical base in January hours before an attack by pro-government militia. Numerous humanitarian workers temporarily evacuated from the government-controlled town of Wau in mid-year because they feared a rebel attack.

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development traveled to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to press for improved international access to needy populations and an end to aerial bombings.


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