SUDANESE officials refute new charges by a senior UN investigator that local government authorities and rebel forces are engaged in the forced relocation and cultural annihilation of one of Africa's most distinctive tribes, the Nuba.
According to a United Nations report released last month, the Sudan government ``seems to tolerate the policy pursued by local authorities of depopulating the area in the combat against the SPLA [the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army].''
Written by Gaspir Biro, special rapporteur on human rights in Sudan, the study claims that ``these violations ... seem to be of such a grave nature that the fate of the Nuba communities in the area may be questioned.''
Located in central Sudan, in and around the Nuba Mountains, the Nuba people have maintained much of their traditional village customs in relative isolation. But in recent years, as a civil war in the south gradually enveloped their region, the Nuba have found themselves caught between three forces: southern rebels, the Army, and local, well-armed militias.
In the past year and a half, many Nubas have been killed, and tens of thousands have been uprooted from their homes, according to both the Sudan government and human rights advocates.
But Khartoum denies reponsibility. Large numbers of Nuba people have moved from their homes, but ``not because the government moved them,'' says Abdullahi Alazreg, spokesman at the Sudan Embassy here. They moved to ``escape the fighting'' in the civil war in the south, he says.
Sudan's current civil war erupted in 1983, when the SPLA began seeking greater political clout for the south, and later, in opposition to Khartoum's Islamic law. The north is predominantly Muslim, while the south is mostly Christian and animist.
Last September a Sudanese official estimated that at least 150,000 Nuba had fled their homes. Critics of the government, including some Nuba rights advocates, claim there are two motivations behind the alleged forced removal: land and religion. ``As Northern Kordofan [a tract of Sudan adjacent to the Nuba region] faces drought and desertification, people of the north are looking at the fertile land of the Nubas,'' says Suliman Rahhal, head of a Nuba rights group based in London.
Peter Verney, editor of the London-based Sudan Update, alleges that behind the relocation of the Nuba is ``ecological pressure to grab land being controlled by Nuba for modern agriculture.... There have been auctions of land to businessmen, farmers, retired civil servants, absentee landlords. It appears this is land taken from the Nuba,'' he says.
Africa Watch reported in October that large estates have been established, ``often on land formerly owned by the displaced and recently acquired by government supporters.'' The group claims the government has carried out a campaign ``tantamount to ethnic cleansing'' in the Nuba Mountains.
Mr. Verney says he has ``heard stories of camps where women ... are used for sexual purposes by local Arab militias.... A new generation is being raised, stripped of its Nuba culture, open to Islamic culture.''
Mr. Alazreg denies such charges. ``[Sudanese] tradition doesn't allow this kind of treatment of women,'' he says.