The Nuba dilemma.

Author:Kaff, Tony

Years of isolation for Sudan's beleaguered Nuba people are hopefully coming to an end. A six-month cease-fire that came into force in the rebel-controlled enclave since January appears to be holding. For many, it was their first taste of peace after almost two decades of suffering, caught in the middle of the country's long-running civil war.

The cease-fire, agreed on 19 January after a week of secret US-sponsored negotiations at the Swiss resort of Bergenstock, allows full humanitarian access and civilian movement, but only applies to a strictly defined part of the Nuba area.

It specifically excludes the country's war-torn South, where another two million people currently depend on outside food relief, yet Khartoum refuses to end bombing of civilian targets.

"This agreement will make it possible for the Nuba people to receive international assistance," said Commander Abdel-Aziz Adam El Hilu, leader of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army in the region. "But until and unless a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict in the Sudan is reached, the conflict in the Nuba Mountains is far from resolved."

The Nuba are a million and a half-strong group of African tribes straddling the border between north and south Sudan. About a quarter of them continue to hold out in the most inaccessible areas of their mountainous terrain, while the rest have been displaced into government peace villages or the shanty towns of Khartoum in a campaign of bombing and starvation.

The Nuba make up a quarter of Sudan's 4.5 million displaced people. The UN's World Food programme estimates 157,000 people require urgent assistance in the area cut off for over a decade. A once proud people have been driven to destitution and their culture virtually annihilated while the world looked away.

With the immediate threat of starvation lifted, the Nuba themselves are now demanding the right to decide their own future, concerned by the underlying secessionist ambitions of the southern rebels and fearing further isolation if the country breaks apart.

Suleiman Rahhal, editor of Nuba Vision, is worried by the lack of political debate in the implementation of the humanitarian cease-fire.

"Of course everyone is delighted at the prospect of a temporary peace. Now we must get together to discuss our future. We need the same right to self-determination as our brothers in the South, we are entitled to a say in our future and our right to be Nuba, but if we don't act soon we risk...

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