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Ethnic Cleansing in Sudan

In the last three years, the world has lent its support and sympathy to the Bosnian Muslims, but in Sudan, another people facing similar persecution have not had the benefit of such support. The mountain-dwelling Nuba people have, for many years, faced persecution bordering on genocide in the hands of the fundamentalist government. In 1991, their plight came to the attention of the world when it was revealed that the government forces had begun massacring and forcibly deporting them. The government defended its action, arguing that they were only relocating the Nuban people to "peace villages". Like most cases of ethnic persecution, the aggressors claimed merely to be helping the victims.

The reverse is the reality. Observers believe that the government is expelling the Nubans because the hills which they occupy are very fertile. In driving the Nuba people from the hills, the government left a trail of destruction in it is wake. Entire villages were burnt down. Men were forced to join government militia or become farm labourers on their own land. Women were forced to work as unpaid servants in the Muslim dominated northern part of the country and children were even sold off into slavery.

For many years, the government cut off the hills from the outside world. No food, medicine or humanitarian aid was allowed into the area. Non-Muslim Nuba people were forced to convert to Islam. Worse followed. In 1992, the Governor of Kordofan and the head of the pro-government militia declared a Jihad (holy war) against them. This was followed by a Fatwa (Islamic Decree) imposed upon them by some prominent Imams who described Nuba people as "infidels". Then the government pitted the local Arab nomads against them. So much is stacked against these people whose only crime is to be of a different ethnic stock from the ruling class in Sudan.

For many years, Sudan has been involved in a civil war between the Muslim dominated North and the non-Muslim south. As the Neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea try to mediate between both parties, it appears that the Nuba people could be the losers in any eventual settlement. Observers fear that in the likely event that the country is partitioned, they may end up trapped in the Northern part of the country which is controlled by the present government.

Last February, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan, Dr Gaspar Biro, published a report which indicates a further deterioration in the conditions of the Nuba. Last year, members of Survival International, a UK-based organisation which advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples demonstrated on behalf of the Nuba, in front of the Sudanese embassy in London. But although support like this is welcome, it is inadequate and will remain so until their plight is brought to the attention of the world.

Anyone who would like to help or get more information can ring Aidan Rankin, press officer, Survival International on 0171 242 1441.
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