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Sudan's Bombings Boost U.S. Resolve to Aid Civilians in South


LUI, Sudan — A stepped-up government bombing campaign that has exacted a high civilian toll has sparked outrage among the international community and strengthened U.S. resolve to beef up its humanitarian and moral support to the people of southern Sudan, who are bearing the brunt of a 17-year-old civil war.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan E. Rice visited parts of rebel-held southern Sudan this week, where she met with bomb victims and women who had escaped slavery in the north, and condemned Sudan's flagrant violation of human rights.

"Just being here makes me violently angry," said Rice, visibly moved after speaking to people who had been wounded by bombs dropped on a hospital in the remote town of Lui.

But her admonitions to the Sudanese government are likely to fall on deaf ears. In what appeared to be direct retaliation Tuesday for Rice's trip to the south--which Sudan did not approve--the government in Khartoum canceled the visas of American diplomats who make short visits there from neighboring Kenya to run the U.S. Embassy.

The intensified bombing campaign, Khartoum's denial that it is targeting civilians and the rebels' belief that they will likely win the war through force instead of negotiation have dampened any hopes that the conflict will end soon.

The war, and the famine it has caused, has claimed about 2 million lives and forced millions more to flee their homes. The fighting pits the predominantly black African, Christian and animist south--which is seeking greater autonomy and religious freedom--against the largely Muslim and Arab government of the north. But the issues are far more complex, involving competition for resources, political power and other historical struggles.

At the hospital in Lui, which was bombed five times between March 1 and April 16, civilians told Rice of their constant fear. The ominous sound of military aircraft triggers a scramble for shelter in nearby caves; those too slow or feeble to make it are blasted by flying shrapnel and debris. Deep craters near the hospital compound and central market bear testimony to the exploded shells.

The hospital is the only functioning medical facility for miles. Patients sometimes walk for as long as three days to reach it.

In one ward, 2-year-old Boboya Lobutu lay curled up on a bed attached to a drip, next to his aunt. Boboya's mother died trying to reach the hospital after she was injured in a bomb attack Sunday on the town of Tali, about 55 miles north of Lui. Shrapnel had ripped her thigh, and she bled to death, hospital officials said. Boboya's left hand was almost blown off, and doctors said he could have difficulty using his fingers.

The psychological terror is as harmful as the physical injuries, according to medical personnel.

"We are still afraid because we fear the Khartoum government can come any time and bomb us," said James Sanitale, who showed Rice the deep shrapnel wounds in his legs.

Relief organizations said Monday that government planes had bombed a market in the rebel stronghold of Yei 14 times, killing 18 people and injuring more than 50.

"It's carnage in Sudan," said Dan Eiffe, liaison coordinator for Norwegian People's Aid, adding that the Sudanese government is bent on depopulating the south. "It wants the land without the people."

Rice told the wounded in Lui that the U.S. would "continue to keep the pressure on until the government in Khartoum stops these terrible actions."

Washington, the single biggest donor to relief operations in Sudan, imposed sweeping sanctions on Khartoum in 1997, and in 1998 U.S. aircraft bombed a pharmaceutical factory there, alleging that it was being used for terrorist purposes.

But Eiffe, who has worked in southern Sudan for 15 years, said that such actions were doing little to sway the Sudanese government.

"The U.S. administration has given sympathy and words, but Khartoum obviously does not give a damn," Eiffe said.

Sudan insists that it has never intentionally targeted civilians, arguing that the rebels use women and children as "human shields" around their bases.

But Ken Isaacs, a senior official with Samaritan's Purse, a relief organization based in North Carolina that runs the hospital in Lui, said the location of the medical facility was well known since government troops captured by the rebels had been treated there.

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