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Nuba: The villages empty, the hillsides fill

A pair of eyes appears out of the blackness of a small cave, formed by boulders lying upon each other. Another pair of eyes peer out from behind the first. And then another. Fifty metres further up the hillside, ten children sit on the rocks of a dry river bed.

Children from a small village outside of Kauda in the Nuba mountains are now living in this hillside, their parents hoping to save them from the bombs that have already destroyed too many families here.

In the hills above Lwere, the drone of an aeroplane cuts through the air, and mothers and their children flee from the sun-dappled rocks where they sit overlooking their village, into a cave. The path that leads down from this rocky outcrop is littered by craters and bomb fragments.

Above Kurchi, where artillery booms from the other side of the plains, a grandmother sits under a rock, her head in hand as her grand-daughter sleeps behind her. Further up the hillside, another family has turned one cave into their kitchen, a small fire burning under a blackened kettle.

To read more about the conflict raging in the Nuba mountains, the Guardian has published the reporting of my colleague Matteo Fagottto along with my accompanying photographs
» Nuba mountains bear scars of Sudan’s forgotten war

When bombs fall on villages

A boy sits on a bed surrounded by mosquito nets in a medical facility in Sudan’s Nuba mountains. Sudanese Armed Forces have been bombing the region for several weeks, the fallout of disputed elections in South Kordofan State. In this ward, all are civilians, and around this boy lay the injuries caused by these bombs. Others lie beneath the soil of their villages.

Sixteen year old Winassa Steven, a student from Kurchi, was hit by a bomb fragment last Sunday (26 June) whilst washing clothes at the water pump in Um Dorain when her village was bombed by a Sudanese Armed Forces Antonov bomber.

Four year old Jacomo Tia Jibril lost his hand and half of his forearm as a result of the bombing of his village of Kurchi by Sudanese Armed Forces fifteen days ago. He was washing clothes at the only borehole in the village when the bombs fell.

Ten year old Mursila Timas has an injured thumb and infection, risking the amputation of her hand. She has also had one foot amputated, and the other is seriously injured after bombing by Sudanese Armed Forces of her village in the Nuba mountains.

Viviana Issa lies in a bed at a medical facility in Sudan’s Nuba mountains. “I don’t know what to do with this girl” says the only doctor in the facility. She is leaking spinal fluid, and paralysed from the chest down after her spinal cord was severed by a bomb fragment hit her in the neck, breaking vertebrae. The bombing also killed two of her siblings.

A return to Kauda, a return to war

It’s been a little over a year since I was last in Kauda, a small village nestled in Sudan’s Nuba mountains. I must admit, I was surprised to be back.

The intrigue that brought me here on my last trip was that it was the base of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army during the north-south civil war. When I visited last year after a gruelling journey by 4x4, signs of that past were few; peace had been signed in 2005, and Kauda was a remote market village, bustling with its few inhabitants. Some hillsides were off-limits: mines still lay in the earth. But people were moving on from the war.

Coming back now, it has largely emptied. Many of the village’s inhabitants have fled to the hills, fearing the bombs that have rained down in the past few weeks, putting the airstrip out of action.

Fighters that had gone through a disarmament campaign are now donning their uniforms once more, saying that they are ready to fight and waiting to be called-up. “I don’t think peace will ever happen again with these people [the Khartoum government]”, one tells me, standing outside a local coffee shop.

The few aid groups that are still working here have dug bomb-holes around their compounds, into which they jump at the sound of an aeroplane.

Meanwhile, the fertile, arable land remains largely unplanted. In the coming months, if things don’t change, food shortages will be acute, and devastating.

Arriving in the Nuba Mountains

It’s hard to get to the Nuba mountains right now. It’s even harder to get out.

Sudanese Armed Forces’ (SAF) Antonov planes have been bombing the area for weeks. Reports of ethnic cleansing have been seeping out of the provincial capital, Kadugli; the UN peace-keepers there seemingly having done nothing to protect the people of South Kordofan. Aid groups have been banned, and journalists forbidden from going there; Al-Jazeera bravely tried, but were stopped. A few Nuba have escaped it to Juba, where colleagues have interviewed them—gathering eye-witness reports—and written their stories.

It started back in May when Ahmed Haroun—wanted by the International Criminal Court for charges of war crimes committed in Darfur—won the provincial elections. The Nuba, the majority people there, claim that the vote was rigged, and that their own candidate, Abdulaziz Al-Hilu, had won. SAF forces moved into the region to disarm Al-Hilu’s followers.

Within half an hour of arriving, we heard the sound of bombs detonating and the whining of a plane overhead. The vehicles hid under the cover of trees, their bodywork smeared with diesel and mud to camoflage them in the bush. And a line of people walked, bags in hand, trying to find a way out.