Mortar shelling in Kadugli, capital of Sudan's South Kordofan State, on 8 October left at least six dead and several injured; the attacks coincided with an ongoing peace forum in the city intended to bring together rival political parties.
The shelling saw Kadugli's largest market shut down and halted movement around the town. Damian Rance, public information officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN that all UN staff in Kadugli, both national and international, were moved "as a precautionary measure" to a base between Kadugli and the local airport.
The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), which has been fighting government forces in the area for over a year, has claimed responsibility for the attack. Accusing the Khartoum government of conducting frequent aerial raids in the Nuba Mountains, the group said its own attack was retaliatory.
"The NCP [ruling National Congress Party] has already started its dry season ground and air offensive, since last month targeting Daldko and Daluka in Kadugli area on 7 September; [launching an] attack on Surkam on 18 September that resulted in the displacement of 6,000 civilians; and [conducting] an aerial bombardment on 27 September on Hiban town that led to the death and injury of seven civilians," read a statement from SPLM-N spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi.
In May, Human Rights Watch accused the Sudanese government of "indiscriminate bombings and abuses against civilians" in the Nuba Mountains area of Southern Kordofan. Conflict in the area has displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom are now housed in refugee camps in South Sudan.
The governor of South Kordofan, Ahmed Haroun - who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Sudan's western region of Darfur - said during a press conference that South Sudan was indirectly responsible for the attack. He called on the country to disengage from SPLM-N to allow the tenuous relationship between South Sudan and Sudan to thrive.
The government of South Sudan has categorically denied any involvement in the attack and rejects Khartoum's assertion that it provides significant support to the SPLM-N.
The SPLM-N shelling in Kadugli coincided with the start of the Kadugli Consultative Forum on Issues of Peace, in which some 15 political parties - including the NCP, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Communists, the Arab Bathist Socialist party, and leaders of civil administration and civil society - are participating.
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Al Shoroog TV channel, a pro-government channel, quoted Hussein Juma, chairman of the forum’s higher committee, describing the attack as a desperate attempt to derail the talks.
Some political parties have refused to participate in the talks, with Hassan Al Turabi, head of the Popular Congress Party (PCP), saying that the forum "does not represent the consensus of the people of the region, particularly as it does not involve SPLM-N”.
"SPLM-N should absolutely be brought to the table for these discussions. It is a significant force that represents the people of the Nuba Mountains," John Ashworth, a Sudan analyst, told IRIN. "They have regularly called for a negotiated solution to the war, but the Sudan government will not negotiate properly."
The forum follows a recent deal between Sudan and South Sudan to improve security and boost trade between the two countries; the agreement was signed on 27 September in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The two countries, however, failed to reach an agreement on the sovereignty of the border region of Abyei.
SPLM-N has criticized the Addis Ababa Agreement for failing to address the dire humanitarian situation in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State. According to the US Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), an estimated 350,000 people in South Kordofan, 175,000 people in Blue Nile and up to 120,000 people in Abyei are food insecure.
Humanitarian access remains a problem despite an August announcement by the Khartoum-based government that aid would be allowed into the region. In September, rights group The Enough Project accused the Sudanese government of denying international humanitarian aid organizations access to civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile; NGOs working in the area have also called for unhindered access to these areas.