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KILO 18, South Sudan — The stories all begin and end the same way. In the beginning, there were bombs. Those started dropping in the fall. Some people say they immediately fled to the mountains, where they scavenged for food. Others hunkered down in their villages, behind the protection of armed rebels.
Then, last month, military vehicles filled with men in green uniforms stormed into their lives, torching their homes, destroying their crops, and killing whomever was not quick enough to run away. The bodies were dumped into the wells, poisoning the water.
So, by the thousands, they fled their isolated hilly homeland in the Ingassana Hills in Sudan's Blue Nile state, eating leaves from trees and rummaging in the ground for edible roots. Finding water was a constant struggle. Many dropped dead along the way.
By earlier this month, the survivors — 40,000 of them — had massed on the border with South Sudan, empty-handed, weak and exhausted, the human evidence of a scorched-earth military campaign by the Sudanese government, the harrowing news of which is only now reaching the outside world.
More than 10,000 refugees still have not made it to shelter and are stranded here at a spot aid workers have dubbed Kilo 18, because it lies 18 kilometers —11 miles — north of the Jamam refugee camp in South Sudan, one of three camps to accommodate the more than 100,000 refugees who have fled Blue Nile since war re-erupted there in September.
In interviews last week, refugees here described a Sudanese military offensive that began in May and has routed the South Sudan-aligned Sudan People's Liberation Army-North rebels from the areas they once held in the highlands. Witnesses say soldiers actively hunted down and killed civilians.
Sheikh Awad Doka said he was inside his house in the Tego area of the Ingassana Hills when an attack started. The rebel soldiers retreated, outnumbered and outgunned. He and other villagers fled to a dry river bed, where they hid for five days. When he returned, there was nothing left.
"When the soldiers came, they started burning everything," he said. "If they catch someone, they hack them to death."
From the 72 households in his community, he said, 10 people died in the attack, and eight more died on the 13-day trek to the South Sudanese border.
Kukur, a major Ingassana town north of Tego, was completely destroyed about the same time, said two witnesses who gave nearly identical accounts of the attack in separate interviews.
"The old men and women left behind were burned in their homes." said Juma Ali, who fled Kukur during the attack. Ali said he had lost 20 family members in the attack and from the subsequent flight to South Sudan.
Aid workers said they had heard similar testimonies.
"What we are hearing is that people are being pushed out of their villages, homes are being burnt, sometimes with people inside," said Arjan Hehenkamp, the head of the Dutch branch of Doctors Without Borders, the international medical aid society. The Dutch are providing care here, and Hehenkamp visited Kilo 18 on Wednesday.
"Whether this is a pattern or just incidents, we can't say," he said. But the massive influx of refugees shows that the situation inside the conflict area is "very serious."
No foreign observer has been to the Ingassana Hills since the Sudanese offensive began in May. The Sudanese government, led by President Omar Bashir, has blocked access to the area, and the rebel group has not taken anybody to the area.
A spokesman for the rebel SPLA-North, Arnu Ngutulu, confirmed the government offensive but claimed that the rebels had since regained control of the Ingassana Hills.
Newer news items:
- Tribal raids killed 900 South Sudanese in Dec-Feb: UN - Reuters - 25/06/2012
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- Israel Expelling 150 South Sudanese - ABC News - 25/06/2012
- Sudan's Bashir defiant after Khartoum protests - Reuters - 24/06/2012
Older news items:
- Note to refugees from South Sudan: Israel is for the white man - The Independent (blog) - 22/06/2012
- Thousands flee Sudanese army's scorched-earth military campaign - Bradenton Herald - 22/06/2012
- Sudan army clashes with rebels in border oil state - Reuters - 21/06/2012
- Children in South Sudan urge greater protections for children living ... - UNICEF (press release) - 21/06/2012
- Aid Agencies Fear for Survival of Sudan's Blue Nile Refugees - Voice of America - 20/06/2012
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