Fighting the war in the mountains of Sudan with a camera

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How to tell the story of a war no one’s ever heard of? Nuban Ahmed Khatir is using the only ‘weapon’ he has: a camera.

John Dickie’s Eyes of Nuba screens on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 20h00 GMT on Witness, Al Jazeera’s flagship documentary strand.  

The 25-minute documentary tells the story of Ahmed Khatir from Nuba Reports, a small-band of self-taught journalists based in the Nuba Mountains on the border between Sudan and the newly formed South Sudan.

When the war broke out there in June 2011, Ahmed watched, powerless, as Sudanese soldiers burned his family’s home. 

But instead of taking up arms to join with the rebels, he joined a group of citizen journalists who are determined to make the world take notice.

“At the start of the new century, the genocide in Darfur in Sudan and the atrocities committed there made headlines,” says John, the film’s director. “Foreign governments and humanitarian organisations, prompted by global news reports filled with graphic images of death and mayhem, finally took action. Aid and outrage poured into the region and Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir subsequently became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. But the tragedy of genocide had not been confined to just this one corner of Sudan. In the neighbouring province of Southern Kordofan, and particularly in the Nuba Mountains, a similar catastrophe is currently underway and yet nobody seems to know about it.”

Sudanese bombers randomly attack and burn villages, all in an effort to drive out the local population they suspect are in bed with the SPLA-N (Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North).

Many now live in nearby caves, forced from their land and on the brink of starvation.

But this is a forgotten war. “The U.N. and most NGOs abandoned the region when the war began in 2011 as the Sudanese government could not – or would not – guarantee their safety,” says John. “The Nuban population is essentially cut off from the rest of the world due to the remoteness of the region, the fact that journalists and NGOs are banned from entering the area, and cell phone and television coverage being cut off.”

Ahmed and his team know that for the people living in Nuba, information and reaching out to the rest of the world may be their only hope of survival. Their aim is to prevent the region from descending further into genocide, to avoid becoming the next Darfur.

But in the time since the documentary finished, the situation has already escalated with the eruption of the new conflict in South Sudan. “Yida Refugee Camp is home to 70 000 Nubans, including Ahmed’s family,” says John. “It’s in Unity State in South Sudan, which borders Sudan. This has been a flashpoint region as rebels briefly took control of Bentiu, the state capital, which is around 100 kms from Yida. Fighting raged as government forces took back the town in early January, with reports of dead bodies lining access roads. As a result, the UN and other NGOs have left Yida Refugee Camp, leaving Nuban refugees without relief services. Many are now returning to the Nuba Mountains. So an already horrific situation for them just got worse.”

Meanwhile, in the Nuba Mountains, the Sudan Armed Forces have recently begun new efforts to take back the territory from the rebel SPLA-N, with large troop mobilizations being reported. A battle took place at Toroje in which the rebels repelled the Sudanese army incursion and captured tanks and weapons. Ahmed arrived at the front line after the fighting and his report can be viewed here: http://nubareports.org/srf-repel-saf-attack-hold-road-to-south-sudan/ 

For more information, visit http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/ or check out www.nubareports.org for up-to-date coverage of the crisis, including a powerful recent report about a new ‘parachute bomb’ tactic being deployed by the Sudan government: http://nubareports.org/on-the-ground-update-parachute-bombs-and-new-offensives/ 

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