KHARTOUM: UN officials expressed alarm on Wednesday after Sudan stepped up air strikes in South Kordofan on the south Sudan border, as clerics, activists and politicians alleged a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
The United Nations said the fighting in the embattled state had affected "many" of the 1.4 million residents in the 11 conflict areas, and that fear was growing among the estimated 60,000 people who have fled their homes.
"There is a growing sense of panic among some of the displaced populations who find themselves trapped by the ongoing violence and the ethnic fault lines," the UN humanitarian office (OCHA) said in its latest report.
Heavy fighting between the northern Sudanese Armed Forces and allied militiamen against fighters aligned to southern former rebel group the Sudan People’s Liberation Army has raged across the state since June 5.
On Tuesday, the SAF appeared to step up its air strikes on former rebel strongholds, where the indigenous Nuba peoples fought with the SPLA during the devastating 1983-2005 civil war between north and south.
"We are extremely concerned about the bombing campaign, which is causing huge suffering to the civilian population and endangering humanitarian assistance," UNMIS spokesman Kouider Zerrouk told AFP.
"The intensive bombing by SAF in the past week is continuing in Kadugli and Kauda, where jet fighters dropped 11 bombs at 10:30 this morning (0730 GMT), apparently targeting an airfield," he added.
The SAF denied it was targeting civilians.
"We have a rebellion in South Kordofan and we are targeting the rebels," army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad told AFP.
OCHA said on Wednesday that, while the northern army was reinforcing its positions, the fighters aligned to the former southern rebels were also advancing towards Kadugli, the state capital of South Kordofan, amid ongoing fighting and aerial bombardments.
UNMIS could not provide details of casualties. But a Sudan human rights group reported this week that Antonov bombers had killed more than 65 people in air strikes in the state since the start of fighting.
The Sudan Democracy First Group (SDGP), in a six-page report, accused the northern army of pursuing a genocidal campaign in South Kordofan.
SAF soldiers, supported by the Popular Defense Forces, a feared civil war militia that now forms part of the Sudanese army, were targeting the Nuba peoples, the report said.
The accusations were echoed by opposition MPs in Khartoum.
"This is really a targeted cleansing of a specific group, the Nuba, whether it is now, or it is heading towards that," Ahmed Saeed, a Nuba activist and MP for South Kordofan, told AFP.
"(The government) want to pursue their Arab-Islamic state and anyone who opposes that will be eliminated. And the Nuba have the loudest voice in that, saying they are proud to be Nuba," he added.
The UN refugee agency appealed to the Sudanese authorities to provide air and road access for humanitarian agencies to South Kordofan, where UN offices and warehouses have been looted.
Planes have been refused permission to land and roadblocks were hampering access by land, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
Reports are also emerging of alleged atrocities carried out by the armed forces on civilians and Sudanese UN staff.
The SDGP reported extra-judicial killings carried out during house-to-house searches for people suspected of sympathizing with southern-aligned troops.
The United States threatened to halt the normalization of its ties with Sudan, warning the government it faced deeper international isolation if it did not halt the mounting violence in the border state.
The head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, said the unrest risked turning the state into "another Darfur".
He urged international action to protect its non-Arab minorities, some of whom are Christian.
Daniel Deng Bul, who as the Episcopal Archbishop of Sudan is the country’s senior Anglican leader, also accused Khartoum of pursuing a policy of "ethnic cleansing" in South Kordofan, in a statement Tuesday.
The attacks came less than a day after Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir agreed to a provisional deal with his southern counterpart Salva Kiir to pull his troops out of the disputed border district of Abyei, during talks in Ethiopia brokered by the African Union.
An AU official said that while the presidents had focused primarily on Abyei, occupied by northern troops last month, they had also discussed security along the rest of the north-south border.
Now security along the border looks in jeopardy, for just weeks before the south is due to win recognition as an independent state, the fighting in central Sudan shows no sign of abating.