ON THE STREETS, large banners proclaim Khartoum to be the "Capital City of Virtues". Others substitute "values" for "virtues", which is not quite the same thing; but then nothing in Sudan is quite what it seems.
Nor does the railhead, broiling in the midday heat, suggest an Islamic Republic in the making. Squads of soldiers in jungle green drowse in the shade of a broken station building while two big artillery pieces stand on a freight platform, waiting to be loaded on to a derelict train for the south. The civil war is another of those subjects that simply does not feature in the Sudanese press.
But, come the New Year, the Sudanese authorities are going to have to explain a detailed list of civil war atrocities that has been handed to the United Nations here and which is to form the subject of a UN report in January. Eyewitness testimonies that are now in the hands of the UN - and which have been made available to the Independent - speak of rape, pillage and murder in the province of Bahr el-Gazal, as well as the continuing abduction of thousands of southern children on the streets of Khartoum.
According to the documents, the most recent atrocities occurred in July when the Sudanese army drove a train loaded with locally-hired militiamen through territory held by the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Under the orders of an officer referred to in the papers as Captain Ginat - commander of the People's Defence Force camps in the town of Muglad in southern Kordofan and a member of the Sudanese government council in the southern city of Wao - the militias were let loose on Dinka tribal villages along the length of the railway track, destroying every village to a depth of 10 miles (16km) on each side of the line, killing the men, raping the women and stealing thousands of head of cattle.
Evidence taken from tribesmen who fled the villages without their families includes details of the slaughter of a Christian wedding party of 300 people near the Lol river. Documents that have also been given to the UN allege that government troops, along with loyal tribal militias, massacred large numbers of southern Dinkas in a displaced persons' camp at Meiran last February.
The UN has also gathered evidence on the abduction of thousands of southern children - many of them Christians - on the streets of Khartoum. The government says that the police in the capital regularly round up children who are homeless and begging, installing them in camps around the city for their own protection; but testimony given to the UN makes clear that the authorities have specifically excluded northern, Muslim children from these sweeps and that in many cases the detained children come from well-off Christian families and are attending private schools in Khartoum.
The evidence, which in some …