WASHINGTON — A US congressman pleaded Monday for action to bring food to thousands in Sudan’s South Kordofan state, accusing the Khartoum government of new “ethnic cleansing” after a visit to the region.
Representative Frank Wolf said he went last week to the Yida refugee camp across the border in newly independent South Sudan and heard accounts of aerial attacks, arbitrary shootings and severe lack of food in South Kordofan.
Wolf showed to a Washington news conference videotaped interviews he conducted with women at the camp who said that Sudan’s mostly Arab forces targeted them for rape and other abuses because they were black and Christian.
“Clearly, ethnic cleansing is familiar territory for Khartoum,” said Wolf, a longtime critic of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted for alleged war crimes in the separate conflict in Darfur.
“Bottom line — Bashir is using food as a weapon. We are quickly reaching a time when mere statements will prove wholly insufficient. If Khartoum persists in barring international access to these regions, there will be devastating consequences,” said Wolf, a Republican from Virginia.
South Sudan became independent in July following decades of war. US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, welcomed Sudan’s quick recognition of the new state and initially showed willingness to start reconciliation with Sudan.
But the Obama administration voiced alarm after conflict broke out soon afterward in South Kordofan and nearby Blue Nile state, with Khartoum fighting insurgents once allied to the former rebels who now rule South Sudan.
The UN estimates that more than 500,000 people have been displaced. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, has warned that food shortages would become critical in March and urged the world body to consider unspecified “options” if deliveries can not come in by then.
Sudan has rejected any plan for an aid corridor without involvement by its government organizations, saying that supplies could go to rebels. On Sunday, rebel groups from Darfur and South Kordofan said that they carried out a first joint attack, although Khartoum blamed troops from South Sudan.
Wolf urged the Obama administration to make a decision quickly on food, warning that an upcoming rainy season would complicate potential efforts to bring in food by land.
Pressure groups have said that frequent raids by Sudanese planes made it impossible to plant crops in South Kordofan, triggering the food shortages in a state covered by the Nuba mountains.
After remaining mostly off the radar screen in the United States, the situation in South Kordofan has begun to gain attention with prominent journalists from The New York Times and NBC News recently reporting there.
“We remember the tragedy of Darfur. It was only when hundreds of thousands of people began to die that the world took notice and took action,” said Tom Andrews, head of the Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition pressure group.
“The question now is, how many are going to be required to die in the Nuba mountains before we take the requisite action?” he said.
Wolf said that the United States should bar funding to any country that welcomes Bashir. He pointed to Malawi, which welcomed Bashir in October despite the arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.
The United States committed $350 million to Malawi’s energy sector under the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an initiative to assist developing countries that commit to standards on democracy and basic rights.
Washington put the grant on hold in July last year after Malawi cracked down on street protests.