On 2 July, units of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) forcibly rounded the residents of Banat village in Bao locality in Blue Nile, and herded them onto trucks dumped them in Abu Ramad in Damazin locality. This incident occurred one week after residents of Daireng village were similarly uprooted and forcibly relocated to a camp for the displaced called Ashahid Afandi in the suburbs of Ed Damazin, but administratively attached to Bao locality.
What: A Pattern of Forced Relocations
These two incidents were just the latest in what appears to be a full-fledged campaign of forcible relocations of the Ingessana people of Blue Nile from their home areas in Bao locality to other localities in the state where they have no local roots or connections. Security agencies of the Government of Sudan (GoS) unleashed the campaign in early April. By mid July, SDFG estimates that upwards of 25,000 people have been forcibly relocated.
From 10 April, when the first incidents of forced relocations occurred until early June, some 2,340 families have been relocated from the villages of Medyam Eljebel, Medyam Massalit, Maganza, and Bagis Abo Garin, all of which are in Bao locality, to different villages in Roseires locality.
During the same period, up to an additional 490 families were transferred from the same villages in Bao locality to Ed Damazin locality and some residential areas within the town of Ed Damazin.
The campaign moved next, on 24 June, to Daireng, Mosfa, and Moreg villages, targeting residents of Medyam Masalit. An estimated 1,360 families, or upward of 8,160 persons, were forcibly relocated to Damazin town and rural areas.
In addition to these forced relocations, two major incidents of flight of civilian populations occurred during the period from April to June. The first occurred around 10 April when inhabitants of Almadina 10 of Geissan locality, estimated to be 17,000 people, were forced to flee their homes in the wake of fighting between government and forces of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army – North (SPLA-N). Almadina 10 borders Medyam Eljebel in Bao locality where the first wave of forced evictions occurred a week earlier. The government’s Humanitarian Affairs Commission (HAC) has since reported that most of those displaced by the fighting, 11,000 people by their estimate, returned to their home area. The second incident occurred on 14 June when an estimated 8,600 people fled fighting between government forces and the SPLA-N in the town of Wab Abok (AR), according to HAC. The SPLM-N had reported an earlier wave of displacement from Wad Abok following a bombing by the Sudanese Air Force on 11 June. HAC later reported a return of the situation to normal.
The campaign kicked off with coercive interventions by the SAF, NISS, and other security agencies. It has since settled into an organized drive made possible by threats of retaliation against inhabitants of Bao locality. Thus, the attack on 10 April on Medyam Eljebel involved government soldiers storming the village and chasing villagers from their huts, which the soldiers later looted before burning the entire village to the ground. Since that early physical onslaught on civilians, security agents have conducted the rounds of villages, telling residents of Bao locality that they should all relocate from their home villages to designated areas in Roseires and Ed Damazin localities.
Those who stay behind will be considered members of the SPLM-N and treated accordingly. The fate awaiting those suspected of loyalty to the SPLM-N is best illustrated by the case, reported by the monitoring group ACJPS, of at least ten individuals from the same area, arbitrarily arrested and held incommunicado by Military Intelligence in Ed Damazin who suspected them of spying or fighting for the SPLM–N.
The current campaign is not the first time that the inhabitants of Bao locality have come under deliberate and indiscriminate attacks by their own government. Government forces and allied militias launched a campaign targeting the Ingessana community in 2011 and 2012. That campaign was largely carried out through aerial bombardments, burning down of villages and farms, and massive arbitrary arrests, forcing the local people to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighboring South Sudan and Ethiopia. Thousands also took refuge in the SPLA-N held areas in the far south of Blue Nile.
Leading international rights monitoring groups documented earlier phases of what is increasingly emerging as an ethnic cleansing campaign that is gradually orchestrated and rolled out in an attempt to evade detection. In a June 2013 report, Sudan: ‘We had no time to bury them’: War crimes in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, Amnesty International confirmed the large scale attacks on civilians in 2012 through satellite images that show village after village in which nearly all of the homes were destroyed by fire, as were mosques, schools and other civilian structures.
A report issued by Human Rights Watch in December 2014, Sudan: Soldiers, Militias Killing, Raping Civilians, documented the abuse of civilians in many of the villages from where government security agencies forcibly relocated residents. It is thus entirely possible that someone living inside the Ingessana Hills could have been displaced by SAF between 2011 and 2012 to a place like Maganza where they were then subjected to abuses by SAF/PDF, and who now have been forcibly relocated from Maganza.
Why Now: The Military Factor
The ongoing armed conflict pitting government forces against the SPLA-N has recently witnessed a significant shift in the balance of military power between the two, to the detriment of government forces. In an unexpected response to the launch of the government’s second Decisive Summer Campaign out of Ed Damazin in October 2014, the SPLA-N sent forces out of its area of control along the narrow strip of land bordering the county of Maban in South Sudan deep into government-held territories in the northern parts of Blue Nile around Ed Damazin. The move enabled the SPLA-N to move the frontline from Kurmuk (168 km) in the far south and Malkan (140 km) in the far west to Kilgo, at a distance of some 40 km from Ed Damazin. The SPLA-N was able as a result to use the natural mountainous terrain to its advantage to launch sporadic attacks on government positions.
The SPLA-N’s move closer to Damazin was too close for comfort for government forces, as the new location enabled the SPLA-N to be within a striking distance of the state capital and the Roseires Dam that provides about 20% of the power of the national grid. After several failed attempts to recapture Kilgo on 22 April, 10 May, 21 May, 7 June, and 13 June, SAF appears to have opted to evacuate the whole area to deprive the SPLA-N from public support and a lifeline as the SPLA-N started to operate in Geissan locality out of the Ingessana Hills.
The first incidents of village torching and forced expulsion and relocation of residents in early April appear to have been driven by retaliation against civilians perceived to be supporters of the SPLM-N by virtue of their shared ethnic origin with the leadership and fighters of the armed movement.
Subsequent incidents clearly stem from an institutional practice in Sudan’s military and intelligence establishments: that of meting out different forms of collective punishment upon particular ethnic groups, labeled by the chain of command as the “natural” constituency of the armed movements fighting the government. In other words, the Ingessana, the Uduk, settled Arab pastoralists, people with distant West African roots and other indigenous groups in Blue Nile are today subjected to the same forms of collective punishments as civilians, particularly those of African origin during the first civil war (1955-72), the second civil war (1983-2005), and the 2003-2004 genocidal and ethnic cleansing campaigns in Darfur. True to their institutional memory and practice, the military and security establishments, as well as the political elites issuing their marching orders are deploying the same techniques of humanitarian blockade, forced displacements and relocations, denial of basic social services, and deliberate destruction of infrastructure necessary for the survival of civilians.
Not only does the latest wave mirror similar tactics used by SAF in previous wars, it represents an escalation in this current war. By December 2012, SAF had cleared out most of the Ingessana from the Hills. Those that were still in the area were taken to camp-like settings in Maganza and other towns on the edge of the Hills and still that was not enough for SAF to keep control of the area. With the SPLA-N’s return to the Hills, SAF presumably decided to forcibly remove these same civilians, as well as many others.
Why Here: The Resource Factor
The move of the SPLA-N to areas in the Bao, Tadamon and Ed Damazin localities places it very close to the natural resources currently exploited by the government and its allies, namely large scale mechanized farming, mineral wealth, and hydroelectric power. Control over these resources has been a source of conflict in the Two Areas and a contributor to the current war that reignited in June and September 2011 in resource-rich South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Blue Nile has vast expanses of rain-fed mechanized farming lands, with hundreds of thousands of hectares owned by Sudanese and foreign agribusiness investors and corporations. Recent fighting around Wad Abok in June risks disrupting the seasonal farming activities in many of the adjacent vast agricultural lands. In mid-April, there were active military operations around Kilgo, situated at 20 km from Agadi, where key agricultural rain-fed schemes exist, including huge strategic investments totaling 220,000 acres from the Arab Authority for Agricultural Investments and Development, and 25,000 acres from Switch Agricultural Services Project.
Blue Nile also has rich deposits of chromium and gold, among other minerals. It exports large quantities of chromium mined in the Ingessana Hills by the state-owned Ingessana Hills Mines Corp. Gold is fast catching up with chromite as another significant income earner for Khartoum. Blue Nile and its inhabitants have yet to see any dividends from the revenue generated by its mineral wealth. In February, the SPLA-N captured the town of Jam, which is a hub for chromium mining activities and businesses that have for decades extracted and exported the area’s mineral wealth without any reinvestments in the state’s infrastructure or social services to benefit the local population. By occupying the town of Jam, the SPLA-N appears well positioned to disrupt the production of chromium and other minerals mined in the area.
With an installed capacity of 280 Megawatt (MW), the Roseires dam contributes up to 20% of the electricity on the national electrical grid, but actual state consumption is less than 3 MW. Because of decades of marginalization and neglect, the entire state remains to this day in near total darkness at night except for a few urban pockets.
SDFG strongly condemns the forcible relocations and all past and ongoing violations committed against civilians in Blue Nile. Given the persistent pattern of deliberate attacks on civilians perpetrated by GoS forces and militias under its command in Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and Darfur states, SDFG calls on international, regional and national actors concerned with peace and the promotion of human rights in Sudan to exert maximum pressure on the GoS to stop the ongoing forcible relocations, release detainees and remove all restrictions imposed on humanitarian access to allow immediate and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations to provide assistance for the displaced.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) should coordinate their efforts to press the government of Sudan to end all attacks on its citizens, including by establishing an independent commission of inquiry to investigate and establish the facts about the reported grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and to hold perpetrators accountable.
SDFG calls upon civil society, democrats, peace advocates and the public at large in Sudan to join the campaign to stop regime’s wars and to bring an end to the suffering of fellow citizens in war affected areas.