Sudan villagers, aid workers say bombings of civilians go on

Government attacks in countryside continue despite president's order

May 03, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

LAINYA, Sudan -- The Sudanese plane came about 9 a.m., flying high over this town in rebel-held territory. Eight bombs landed harmlessly in the bush. Eight more landed about 200 yards from the Anglican Church, where the congregation had just begun prayers.

"There were no injuries," said Bakata Lasu Lemi, a nurse at the Lainya clinic that was only 100 yards from where the bombs exploded Sunday, leaving six-foot-wide craters and spreading shrapnel into some trees.

Not everyone who is targeted by the Sudanese Air Force is so fortunate. In February, 14 students and a teacher were killed when bombs hit a school in Kaoda, in another part of southern Sudan.

The Sudanese government's tactic of bombing of civilian targets in its 17-year-civil war has attracted much international criticism, prompting Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir two weeks ago to announce a suspension of air raids on civilian targets in rebel-held territory.

But in this town, one of many villages along this post-apocalyptic highway of ruined buildings and twisted wrecks of rusting vehicles, residents say the ban is a farce.

Yesterday, Ater Awan, a Sudanese driver hauling 13 tons of American sorghum, drove through here and ended the day in Lui, a town where a hospital run by U.S. missionary organization, Samaritan's Purse, has also been a frequent target of bombing this year.

Today, Awan plans to drive his grain to a feeding center in Tali, the final destination on a 1,435-mile journey that began when a ship arrived in the Kenyan port of Mombasa last month carrying 8,100 tons of food for Sudanese displaced by the war.

The Tali feeding center, run by the humanitarian organization Norwegian People's Aid, has itself been the target of bombing in recent days, according to aid workers along the road.

Norwegian People's Aid is trying to rush the consignment to its feeding centers before the rains completely cut off roads. Awan was anxious to get to his destination before rivers begin to rise.

People here get by with little. Young men hunt rodents with bows and arrows, and many people wear tattered clothes. The markets have few supplies from the outside world -- some plastic basins, a few cans of sardines, loose cigarettes and commodities such as salt.

Everyone sells mangoes, but there are few buyers, as mangoes lie on the ground free for the taking.

Many of the government's homemade bombs are poorly designed and penetrate deep into the soil before detonating, limiting the blast damage.

But the bombs seem designed not so much to kill as to frighten away the population that has been returning from refugee camps since the rebels reoccupied the zone.

The planes don't even need to drop the bombs to cause panic. One flew over Yei on Monday, prompting patients at a hospital there to flee. By the end of the day, few had returned.

In Lui, where Samaritan's Purse operates the hospital, it's the same story.

"They've bombed Lui five times this year, and directly they've killed only one person," said Eddie Densham , the country director of organization based in Boone, N.C. "But indirectly they've killed many more because people are afraid to come to the hospital.

"The fear is killing more people than the bombs themselves."

The planes fly at about 20,000 feet, beyond the range of anti-aircraft guns or missiles. The drone of the plane's propellers gives people about a minute to rush to an underground bomb shelter. The whoosh of the bombs begins about 12 seconds before impact.

In March, 3,000 patients visited the hospital, but only half that many came in April because of fear of the bombs, Densham said.

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