Tensions in Sudan – which many observers hoped had turned a corner following this January’s Southern Sudanese independence referendum – have boiled over in yet another round of ethnic bloodletting in this battered and impoverished nation. This time, forces serving President Omar al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government are reportedly implicated in dozens of deaths in the mountainous Nuba area of Northern Sudan’s South Kordofan region. According to the U.N. the majority of a 60,000 person population has fled the region in the wake of government-led aerial bombings and an offensive launched by Arab militias, targeting the religiously-heterodox African tribesmen collectively known as the Nuba people.
“They are killing the black people,” a Sudanese aid worker who just escaped from a bombed village on Wednesday told the New York Times. “The northern army is slaughtering people who supported [southern independence].”
Religious organizations are also confirming the accounts of targeted violence. “The reports being received from various quarters point to a deliberate process of ethnic cleansing,” said a statement from the All Africa Conference of Churches.
This would not be the first attempt by North Sudanese paramilitaries to eradicate the Nuba people: in the 1990s, nearly 500,000 people were killed in what has been described as forgotten genocide.
Bashir’s government and loosely organized paramilitary groups have begun to repeat the horrors of those years: fleeing Nuba “are being hunted down like animals,” according to the Sudanese Council of Churches.
The roots of the conflict in the Nuba Mountain range are not difficult to comprehend: many Nuba fought with the southern Sudanese during the protracted civil war, yet when borders are officially drawn in July, their land is set to belong to Northern Sudan. Outnumbered ethnically, abandoned by former allies, and finding themselves living in a formerly antagonistic nation, the Nuba refused to disarm when the northern army came calling on June 5.
Now, as ethnic violence once again ravages Sudan, the United Nations is looking into the situation.
“We will take the necessary measures to immediately investigate,” Hua Jiang, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission in Sudan, told the Times, requesting that “anyone who possesses any evidence to bring them to our attention.”
Meanwhile, Southern Sudan and its president Salva Kiir Mayardit are set to officially declare independence on July 9. The violence in South Kordofan right along the border could, however, complicate the situation.
In a Tuesday piece for TIME, Alan Boswell described the chaos in Sudan:
The Sudanese government’s Arabist policies and conservative political Islam serve as potent tools for keeping power in the hands of a small few tribes. But marginalized non-Arab groups in north Sudan — the Fur and Zaghawa in Darfur, the Funj and Uduk in Blue Nile, and Beja in the East, and the Nuba in South Kordofan — have fought back. After the loss of the south’s oil reserves, the stability of President Omar al-Bashir’s regime and its grip on power could be severely weakened. If the past week is any indication, the end result could be an implosion of north Sudan from the edges.
Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan, has reportedly transformed from the quiet, albeit tense, town I visited weeks ago to a hellish battlefield of tanks, craters, and body limbs. According to the U.N., most of the 60,000 resident population has fled, with some 6,000 camped outside a United Nations peacekeeping base hoping for protection amid reports that government forces are going to door-to-door hunting down opposition. Dilling, another town I stayed in, was also emptied, according to U.N. accounts. The British Ambassador to Sudan, Nicholas Kay, reported on his blog that he witnessed bombs loaded into the back of Soviet-model Antonov airplanes in Khartoum and MIG war planes returning from action — sources on the ground confirm to TIME aerial bombing campaigns across the state in civilian areas, and the U.N. has confirmed bombings in 11 of the state’s 19 districts. Retired Nuba rebels have been reactivated, and Arab paramilitary militias — activated during the war but mostly dormant the past few years — are back on the prowl, say sources in Kadugli.
Read Boswell’s full story here.