War toll 1.9 million civilians in south Sudan, report says U.S. group calls conflict worst since World War II

December 11, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- At least 1.9 million civilians in Sudan's predominantly black African south have died in a 15-year ethnic and religious war that has become the bloodiest conflict since World War II, the U.S. Committee for Refugees reported yesterday.

"This is greater than the combined toll of civilian deaths in Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and a number of other places but the international community seems not to be interested," said Roger Winter, director of the privately funded aid group.

He said the agency's estimate is conservative and the actual civilian fatality count could be far higher. In comparison, an estimated 1 million civilians were killed in the Vietnam War, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The report said the number of actual combatants killed in the war between the Muslim-dominated government and a rebel movement based in the mostly Christian and animist south is in )) the "tens of thousands," a small fraction of the number of civilians who died as a direct result of "intentional policies of the Sudan government."

The report updates an estimate issued by the committee in 1993. Since that report, an additional 600,000 civilians have died as a result of war-related violence, famine and disease, the agency says. The toll for the first six months of this year was put at 70,000. The total population of southern and central Sudan is about 5 million.

The organization did not estimate civilian casualties in the largely Arab northern provinces, which are the government's stronghold. But the number is far smaller because the war has been confined mostly to the southern and central regions.

Winter said many of the casualties were caused by government bombing attacks that terrorize civilians but "seem to have no military purpose." He said a civilian hospital was bombed last month just hours after he and five other committee staffers visited it. The raid destroyed medical facilities recently rebuilt by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Jeff Drumtra, the committee's Africa policy analyst, said the war-caused famine in southern Sudan has eased slightly because of massive food aid from a U.N.-sponsored program, a small but significant fall harvest and rainy weather that has made fighting difficult.

But he said the respite is sure to end in the next three months, when food from the harvest is gone and the rain ends. He said the food program lacks funds to continue at its present pace.

Drumtra said the government regularly interrupts delivery of food and other supplies by withdrawing clearance for aid flights.

"After all these deaths, it is time to change the rules," he said, urging the United Nations to declare southern Sudan a "humanitarian zone" in which the government air traffic rules would not apply.

"The government has been relatively successful in sealing off much of Sudan from the prying eyes of journalists, aid agencies and social scientists," the report said.

Pub Date: 12/11/98

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