September 1, 2011 / 12:06 PM / 8 years ago

Sudan rebels say Khartoum using food as a weapon

JUBA (Reuters) - Rebels from South Kordofan, Sudan’s main oil-producing state, accused Khartoum on Thursday of using food as a weapon against the Nuba community and breaking its own cease-fire, charges denied by the Sudanese government.

Fighting broke out between the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation North (SPLM-N) and government forces in June.

The region is viewed one of several flashpoints along the border with newly independent South Sudan, which seceded from the rest of the country in July following a referendum in which southerners voted for a split.

Rebels in South Kordofan want a no-fly zone over the Nuba mountains to stop what rights groups call indiscriminate bombing of civilians, which has killed at least 26, injured at least 46 and caused some 150,000 to flee their homes.

“The use of food as a weapon is the most effective weapon they used against the Darfurians,” SPLM-N deputy chairman Abdelaziz el-Helu told Reuters by telephone from South Kordofan.

He was referring to Darfur in west Sudan, where the government has also fought with rebels.

“Now they are bombing (Nuba) civilians on their farms and preventing them from tending to their crops, so that in the next dry season people are hungry and will be forced to take refuge in the towns and then isolate the SPLM-N,” he said.

Rights groups say many families have sought shelter under boulders and in caves, and are eating wild berries and leaves.

Sudan’s army denied the charges and said rebels had closed roads and prevented aid from reaching people. An army spokesman said the government was working with local and international groups in South Kordofan’s capital Kadugli to deliver aid.

“The army does not carry out aerial bombardment of civilians. It does not violate human rights. It is not possible to ever use food as a weapon,” army spokesman Al-Sowarny Khaled Saad told Reuters.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) fought alongside its southern counterpart against Khartoum during the civil war in which some two million people died. The peace deal in 2005 led to the referendum on secession.

A report by the United Nations human rights office in August documented alleged violations by the Sudanese army in Kadugli and the surrounding Nuba mountains including extrajudicial killings, illegal detention, enforced disappearances, attacks on civilians, looting of homes and mass displacement.

The reports, “if substantiated, could amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes”, the U.N. report said.

Sudan’s government dismissed the report as “unfounded” and “malicious” and said last week it would form its own committee to assess the human rights situation there.

Sudan sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday accusing South Sudan of supporting the SPLM-N, a charge the south denies.

Helu described the two-week cease-fire declared on August 22 by Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir as a “deception for the international community.”

“There is no cease-fire. Bashir is not serious. He declared a cease-fire from one side and he is the first one to violate it the next day by sending airplanes, especially Antonovs and MiGs,” Helu said.

He accused Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed in Darfur, of using the cease-fire to buy time in order to prepare a bigger offensive.

“We want protection for civilians from aerial bombardment. If a no-fly zone is imposed to protect the civilians, we are ready to defend civilians from ground attacks,” he said, also calling for access for humanitarian aid.

Additional reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich

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