Sudanese City Under Heavy Siege

New documents charge government troops have tortured residents in Juba, while rebels increase their bid to gain control

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

AFRICA has its own Sarajevo: the rebel-encircled city of Juba in southern Sudan.

The government-held city has been under siege from rebels for nearly four years. In recent weeks the rebels have tightened the noose around Juba, with intense shelling and ground attacks into the city.

"The world is focused on Somalia, South Africa, Yugoslavia - but our position is no less dangerous," says a Sudanese Christian church worker. "The lives of 300,000 people in Juba are at stake."

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Nine Episcopal bishops and archbishops from Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda have called on the United Nations to intervene in in southern Sudan.

The Southern Sudan Peace Forum, an exile group of professionals, students, and others in Nairobi, has asked UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Eliasson "to create a UN-controlled safe haven for the endangered civilians in Juba." Need for UN intervention

Mr. Eliasson said here last week that he planned to discuss the situation in Juba with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in a meeting this week in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. Another UN official says he would like to see the world organization appoint a special envoy for Sudan to coordinate peace and food-relief efforts.

Juba has become one of the most significant southern towns in the long-running conflict between the Islamic government in northern Sudan and the mostly Christian and animist rebels in the south, who seek autonomy and object to the imposition of strict Islamic law by the Khartoum regime.

Residents have been trapped in a conflict dating back to at least 1955 and interrupted once by a decade of peace that ended with renewed fighting in 1983. Since then, the Khartoum government has made annual advances against Sudan's southern towns during the dry season, only to be pushed back by the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) when the rains return. Toll on civilians

Rebels now appear to be accelerating a campaign against Juba that began in early July and has caused frequent interruptions of food and medical airlifts.

Thousands of civilians have been evacuated from the edges of Juba and crowded into the center of the city, where they are currently packed into buildings or forced to live in the open, under makeshift plastic sheeting.

According to documents obtained by The Monitor, the rebel offensive has led to a wave of torture and executions in Juba by government security forces against anyone suspected of collaborating with the rebels.

Four Maryknoll sisters who were working in Juba until last month describe a "reign of terror" in their four-page report: "People are arrested arbitrarily, detained incommunicado, tortured, and often killed without any legal charges or trial." the report charged.

Sister Mary Ellen also told the Monitor: "We know of at least nine people who ... were taken to the `white house,' located by the Army barracks, which is where the bad torture goes on. You mention the `white house' and everyone cringes."

The Maryknolls' account is similar to another report obtained by the Monitor and prepared by international sources recently in Juba who asked not to be identified.

Some of the alleged torture precedes the latest rebel offensive.

In their most recent news bulletin, the general secretariat of the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference quoted a Juba resident who claimed he was tortured earlier this year by security officials and accused of being in possession of alleged anti-government documents.

"I was picked up from my house around midnight, taken to the main barracks, and put into a trench where I was badly beaten, punched, and kicked." He said he was held for weeks in the "white house," where he claims he saw another prisoner who had been tortured with hot iron. `Let the people out'

Bob Koepp, coordinator of the Lutheran World Federation airlift to Juba from Nairobi, Kenya, says: "I think there's no doubt about some of [the alleged torture]. Certainly people are disappearing."

Mr. Koepp's suggested solution is to "let the people out of Juba." He says another all-out rebel attack on Juba is likely.

But leaving Juba may be just as dangerous as staying. Rebels surround the city. Roads and fields have been laid with government and rebel mines. Residents are in danger of being shot as rebel collaborators if they venture too close to the edge of town.

A Sudanese official here claims that the only bad thing happening in Juba today is the rebel shelling. The official contends many civilians fled to Juba before the siege to escape mistreatment by the SPLA.

A Sudanese exile leader now living in Nairobi partly backs this view. Philip Tongun says the SPLA has mistreated civilians, but he also blames the Sudanese Army for holding civilians in Juba as "valued hostages" against further rebel attacks.

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