Sudan says no proof of mass graves in conflict area

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2011 3:57 PM
Sudan says no proof of mass graves in conflict area

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sudan's U.N. envoy dismissed fresh allegations by a U.S. group that says it has identified a total of eight mass graves in the African country's conflict-ridden Southern Kordofan region.

The Washington-based Satellite Sentinel Project said in a new report released on Wednesday that it discovered two more mass graves in the oil-rich Southern Kordofan state in addition to six it had reported previously.

"There is no proof of mass graves there," Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman told Reuters.

Osman added that there have undoubtedly been numerous casualties in the region but said they were caused by the army of newly independent South Sudan, which seceded from Khartoum last month.

Southern Kordofan holds most of Sudan's known oil reserves after the south split away and took its oilfields with it.

Activists have accused Khartoum of launching airstrikes and attacks in Southern Kordofan, targeting the state's ethnic Nuba group, in a bid to stamp out opposition and assert its authority after South Sudan's independence.

The United Nations said tens of thousands have fled the violence in the territory, which borders South Sudan.

Sudan's government has dismissed the accusations and accused local armed groups, many of which fought alongside the south during decades of civil war with the north, of launching a rebellion to try to control the territory.

LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE

Osman said people should focus on positive developments, such as the unannounced visit of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to Southern Kordofan on Tuesday. Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur, announced a unilateral two-week ceasefire.

"People should concentrate on what is positive," he said. "What has happened has happened."

Bashir also said that foreign organizations would not be allowed into Southern Kordofan and that any aid would be delivered only through the Sudanese Red Crescent organization.

But the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) said the Sudanese Red Crescent has been digging mass graves and burying bodies.

"The Sudanese Red Crescent Society excavated mass graves and filled them with corpses in South Kordofan, according to evidence gathered by SSP," the group said

"The evidence includes eyewitness reports obtained by SSP, and statements from the SRCS, substantiated by DigitalGlobe satellite imagery," it said.

The SSP report also includes what it says is an official Sudanese Red Crescent photo of the body disposal team.

A U.N. human rights office report last week documented alleged violations in the state capital Kadugli and surrounding Nuba mountains, including extrajudicial killings, illegal detention, enforced disappearances, attacks against civilians, looting of homes and mass displacement.

Such violence, if substantiated, could amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes, the United Nations said.

U.N. officials had no comment on the new SSP report. Since July 9, when the UNMIS peacekeeping mission's mandate expired, the 10,000-strong U.N. force that monitored compliance with a fragile 2005 north-south Sudan peace deal cannot carry out regular patrols and is being forced to withdraw.

(Editing by Paul Simao)