June 11 (Bloomberg) -- Sudan’s army waged a “scorched earth” campaign in rebel-held areas of the country’s Blue Nile state in an apparent bid to drive out civilians, Amnesty International said.
Aerial bombings and ground attacks in parts of the southern border state destroyed villages, left many dead and injured and forced tens of thousands to flee, the London-based rights group said today in a report. The tactics suggest a “concerted attempt” to clear the civilian population and punish residents seen to support the insurgents. Sudan’s army called the report “false” and denied civilians were targeted.
Some civilians unable to flee were burned alive in their homes or shot dead by Sudanese troops and pro-government militia, Amnesty said, citing witnesses. Soldiers and militiamen looted possessions and set fire to houses, it said. The tactics are similar to those the government used to battle insurgents in the western region of Darfur, it said.
“This systematic and deliberate targeting of civilians follows a disturbing pattern that was used by the Sudanese government to devastating effect in Darfur,” Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, Amnesty’s Sudan researcher, said in the statement. “Deliberately attacking civilians is a war crime.”
On June 9, Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman threatened to block oil exports from its landlocked neighbor within 60 days unless South Sudan ceases its support for insurgents.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir yesterday said the threat amounted to a declaration of war and reiterated his government’s denial that it backs rebels in Sudan.
Fighting between government forces and rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North broke out in Southern Kordofan state in June 2011 and spread to Blue Nile. The SPLM-N fought alongside South Sudanese forces during the two-decade civil war that ended with a peace agreement in 2005 and southern independence in 2011.
In Blue Nile, villages in the state’s Ingessana Hills, the birthplace of rebel leader Malik Agar, were particularly hard hit in the first half of 2012, according to Amnesty. Satellite images show settlements in which nearly all the homes were destroyed by fire, along with mosques, schools and other structures, it said.
About 150,000 people have sought refuge in neighboring South Sudan and Ethiopia since fighting began in 2011, Amnesty said. Those still in rebel-held areas face a “dire” humanitarian situation, including starvation and disease, it said.
Civilians who reach South Sudan face the threat of “coercive recruitment” into rebel ranks, according to Amnesty.
The insurgents’ “active presence” in refugee camps “detracts from the credibility of the humanitarian effort,” according to the report.
Sudanese army spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled denied the accusations and said they were politically motivated.
“We were fighting rebels only,” he said by phone today from Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. “We did not receive any complaints like this from civilians or NGOs” in Blue Nile, he said.
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