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Christians in bull's-eye for airstrikes

Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir is launching new attacks against the mostly Christian Nuba people, according to a new report from Christian Solidarity International USA President Dr. John Eibner.

“Khartoum has habitually responded to rebellion, especially in peripheral Black African and non-Muslim regions, with attacks intended to disrupt civilian communities to prevent them from hosting rebel armed forces,” Eibner said.

Eibner adds that the present tactic in the Nuba Mountains is consistent with how al-Bashir acted towards South Sudan and in Darfur.

“This was done in South Sudan during the late war there. It was done in response to the rebellion in Darfur, and is now being done in the Nuba Mountains in South Khordofan,” Eibner said.

International Christian Concern’s Africa analyst William Stark confirms the attacks and airstrikes.

“There have been repeated airstrikes there since the separation of the north and south. Many of the people living in the Nuba Mountains are Christian, but there is also a rebel group active there, so there are many reasons the Nuba Mountains are being bombed,” Stark said.

Eibner also says the casualty figures are probably accurate.

“The news that I get about civilian casualties comes from sources such as NubaReports.org. They report from behind the lines of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North. Although, I am not in a position to verify their information, it strikes me as very credible,” Eibner said.

Read in “Foxe: Voice of the Martyrs” the stories of those Christians who faced death for their faith.

Although the casualty figures vary depending on the source, Nuba Reports that since June 2011, 350,000 people have become refugees. Nuba Reports also says 88 bombs were dropped in September and October.

Relief Web says that since mid-October, 18 people have been killed in shelling in Kadugli town in the South Kordofan state.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that the 80-bed Mother of Mercy Hospital in Nuba was housing over 500 wounded.

“These days they are reporting intensified fighting, with both sides initiating offensives. This is what one would expect this time of year as we get into the dry season. The Nuba Report is well-placed to report on civilian casualties on the SPLA-N side,” Eibner said.

Eibner adds that terrorism and military strikes are one of al-Bashir’s preferred methods of dealing with non-Muslim Sudanese populations.

“As I mentioned previously, Khartoum habitually uses terror against civilian populations as an instrument of its counter-insurgency policy,” Eibner said.

Stark agrees with Eibner’s assessment.

“Al-Bashir is no stranger to genocide. Consider the events in Darfur. Once South Sudan split off from Sudan, the north decided that it had to establish its Islamic identity. This has been reflected in the government’s actions and statements,” Stark said.

“Al-Bashir said that Sudan would become a purely Islamic state now that the south has split off. This statement was very worrisome for many Christian that continued to live in the North,” Start said.

Since al-Bashir’s announcement, the move to a fully Islamic state has only gained momentum.

“Since that statement, the Sudanese government has ratcheted up its implementation of Shariah law, even on non-Muslims,” Stark said.

Stark said, “Women found not wearing a veil/hijab are arrested for violating Shariah, whether they are Muslim or not. Also, Christian schools and institutions are being either closed down by the government or destroyed by Muslim mobs. Sometimes it is a combination of the two!” Stark said.

“In regards to the borders, they remain closed. The borders have not been established yet so there remains conflict over where they exactly are. There is also oil in the border areas which just compounds the problem,” Stark said.

Eibner says that for the moment at least, fighting in the oil fields has stopped.

“There is no fighting. The SPLA has withdrawn from Heglig. But the disputes are unresolved,” Eibner said.

Stark says some of those unresolved issues involve border crossings.

“With the borders being closed, many Christians that would likely flee south are now stuck in the north. Many sold their property in anticipation of moving south, but got stuck because of the border closing. Now they live in refugee-like camps on the outskirts or Khartoum,” Stark said.

Eibner indicates that the border may be opening, even if only a few people can go south.

“With the border being officially closed for some months, it has been difficult for southerners in the North to travel to the South. Nevertheless, I am aware of southerners who have crossed the border,” Eibner said.

“Neither Khartoum, nor Juba are able to control the undemarcated border. Since the recent signing of a new agreement between Juba and Khartoum in Addis Ababa, I understand that the border, as least in some places, has reopened,” Eibner said.

Stark points to the Barnabas Aid airlift that has transported some of Sudan’s Christians south.

“There are some organizations airlifting some of the neediest Christians to the South, but there are so many refugees that it is going to be a long time until they are all safe. My contacts estimate there are around 500,000 Christians stuck in Sudan right now around Khartoum alone,” Stark said.

The major issue for Christians in Sudan is al-Bashir’s increasingly strident Islamic tone. Eibner says the gradual implementation of Shariah is part of al-Bashir’s effort to fulfill a promise to jihadists.

“Shortly after the independence of South Sudan and the deterioration of relations between Khartoum and Juba, Bashir pledged to place Sudan more solidly on an Islamic basis and making more space for Shariah in the a new constitution,” Eibner said.

“He clearly seeks stability for his regime by enhancing its Islamist credentials. He is expected to convene shortly an Islamist congress. This makes politically conscious Christians and other non-Muslim in Sudan nervous,” Eibner said. “But I am not aware of a new direct threat against the Christian minority.”

Eibner adds that Shariah has always been a part of Khartoum’s plan.

“Shariah has long been a part of the constitution of Sudan. I am not aware that it is being implemented in a much more comprehensive and rigorous fashion these days,” Eibner said, adding, “But a desperate regime in Khartoum will not shrink from turning the screws against Christians if it believes it will help its survival.”

Eibner adds that al-Bashir depends on the military for the continuation of his regime.

“If Bashir did not have the support of the military, he would not be president today,” Eibner said.

Eibner adds that there is no successor on the horizon.

“Although Bashir carries a lot of troublesome baggage and is reported to have serious health problems, I have had not information to suggest that the military has settled on a successor,” Eibner said.

Eibner says that at the moment, the border skirmishes are on hold, but that could change.

“The Addis Ababa agreement has, at least temporarily, reduced tension. But it is difficult to be convinced that such agreements that are largely imposed by the international community are entered into in good faith,” Eibner said.