Magazine article New African

'God Will Hear Our Suffering': Cathy Majtenyi, Back from the Nuba Mountains, Tells How the Protracted War in Sudan Is about More Than Just Religion. (Feature/Sudan)

Magazine article New African

'God Will Hear Our Suffering': Cathy Majtenyi, Back from the Nuba Mountains, Tells How the Protracted War in Sudan Is about More Than Just Religion. (Feature/Sudan)

Article excerpt

One of Mark Omar's first assignments after becoming a catechist in Kumieti village two years ago, was to minister to church-goers whose relatives were abducted or their food and other supplies raided, and houses burned by Sudanese government soldiers.

It seemed a monumental task for the then 23-year-old. How do you convince someone who has lost it all in an orgy of violence to hang onto their faith?

"When it happened, I told them [the parishioners] that, let's pray, God is always with us, we can t give up," recalls Omar. "I said don't forget God. Don't say that God has brought the enemy. Let's not think of that food that has been taken by the enemy."

That was the same basic message that 14-year-old Rashit Adam was telling his friend, Abdul, as the two chatted under a tree in Kauda village several weeks ago, just days before Christmas. Adam and Abdul were praying, when suddenly a Sudanese government bomber dropped nine bombs in the fields surrounding the tree.

The boys ran. "I thought I was going to die," recalls Adam. "I was praying, God, please help us and take the Antonov [bomber] away. Don't let them bomb us." The Antonov returned on the day before Christmas Eve, dropping another 13 bombs that killed two cows and razed farmers' fields.

Adam and Omar are caught in the middle of one of the world's longest-running civil wars, which has been raging -- with the exception of a 10-year break -- between North and South Sudan since the country achieved independence from Britain on 1 January 1956.

The war is often portrayed as a religious conflict, an Islamic ruling North taking drastic measures to convert Christians and followers of traditional religions in the South.

These measures include the imposition of Sharia (Islamic) law on all parts of the country in 1983 and the abduction and forcible relocation of Southern populations into government "peace camps," set up ostensibly to feed and help war victims but in reality being places of indoctrination. The guerrilla movement, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) arose in 1983 to fight against this repression.

The Nuba Mountains, home to approximately one million people belonging to over 50 ethnic groups, is particularly vulnerable to repression and exploitation. The area consists of 30,000 sq kms of agricultural land rich in minerals in the Southern Kordofan region of central Sudan. Because it is technically considered "north" Sudan, the government has barred it from receiving international food and other relief assistance, and has sealed it from all contact with the outside world.

"The strategy of the government is to isolate the area from the outside so that people cannot know what's going on inside here," says the SPLA Heiban county commander, Major Mohammed Tutu.

"They don't want visitors to come and see our situation. When they isolate us, they can do their own thing," he continued. "Every year, when there is a big celebration like Christmas, they don't want people to feel happy and good in their homes. They bring the plane and bomb people. They don't want people to celebrate."

Government troops are active on the ground as well. "There is a war of food here," notes Amna Isiah, president of the Union for Women, Heiban County branch. "If [government soldiers] come, they burn the harvest, so they are actually making the people go hungry. …

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