Press Release May 31, 2002
Sudan: Aid Worker Provides Eyewitness Account of Attack
(Washington, DC – May 31, 2002) After making six trips to Southern Sudan, this past week will never leave my mind. I’ve seen the conditions that the Sudanese must live in, some of the most extreme conditions on the face of the earth. I’ve seen people forced to drink water that was black! I have heard countless times the stories of those surviving attacks from militia, helicopter gunships and the Antanov bombers. I thought I had witnessed nearly everything of what these precious people have to endure – until the early morning hours of May 22, 2002.
Our team (comprised of members from International Christian Concern and Faith in Action) was camping in a village called Rier. The previous day we had delivered crisis relief aid to this severely impoverished area that had been declared by the Government of Sudan (GOS) as a “No-GO” zone – off limits to all United Nations relief agencies and the International Red Cross. These people needed help. We were determined to do just that. We delivered food, medical supplies, shovels, and other essential items.
It was 2:00 in the morning when suddenly we were awakened from the frightening sound of a Russian Antanov bomber. It flew directly overhead at about 1500 feet. The plane was not visible, for its lights were not displayed in order to evade ground fire. The deafening sound of the plane’s engines caused me to bolt up from a dead sleep. Before we realized it, the plane had passed us and was heading in the direction of where fighting had taken place the day before. I am told that if a plane is flying that close to the ground you usually can’t hear it approaching until it is right on top of you. I found this to be horribly true. Approximately 4-5 minutes after the plane passed overhead we could see the huge flashes of light as the plane dropped around 16 bombs. The flashes lit up the night sky – and then came the sounds of the explosions. I thought this was an attack on the positions of the SPLA who had battled the GOS the prior afternoon in this area. Never had I been so wrong! Sleep the rest of the night was all but impossible.
Shortly before daybreak we headed out towards the direction of the bombing with a contingent of SPLA soldiers acting as guards for us. We were very close to GOS positions at this time. What we saw was a living nightmare. Things I had never before thought I would see. We met waves of people carrying out wounded survivors of the attack. What the bombs did to human beings is indescribable. We saw people with arms and legs severed by the shrapnel; one man had his right arm hanging on by an approximately 4-inch piece of skin. The inside of his arm had the bones and most of the tissue ripped out from his shoulder to somewhere just past his elbow. The man was in obvious shock; however, he was walking under his own strength, holding what remained of his arm against his side to prevent it from swinging as he moved. He had to walk about 5 miles back to the area of our camp to receive help. How he would get that help was beyond my comprehension. I would estimate that we saw at least three-dozen people walking or being carried back to our camp. One particular boy haunts me. He was about 14 yrs old. This boy had either a piece of metal or a gunshot wound that had entered the left side of his head. There was no exit wound. His face was completely swollen and he was completely delirious. This boy was being carried on the shoulders of an adult. He obviously would not make it to the end of the day. He was covered with dried blood down the front of his shirt.
Since the position of the GOS forces was unclear, we were advised not to go all the way to the sight of the bombing. We were the first in the area and the SPLA was trying to get damage reports. It wasn’t until later that day that we learned that the GOS had not attacked the SPLA positions but rather attacked a civilian village. After all I’ve seen in Sudan, this was the worst! The immediate aftermath of an attack is horrible, especially because these poor people have no access to medical help and there is a severe shortage of bandages or anything else that could be used as field dressings.
Upon returning to Nairobi on May 24, I saw an article in the East African Times, which told accurately of the attack. What enraged me was the article actually said the GOS denied the attack. This angered me, for
I was a witness. I have photos of some of the wounded – undeniable evidence of the attack. The GOS claimed that the attack was the work of the SPLA. This is absurd! To begin with, the SPLA doesn’t possess Antanov bombers in its military arsenal.
This was a new experience for me in my work in Sudan. Instead of scaring me away, it has cemented my decision on the importance of ICC continuing to go into these “No-Go” zones. We must – I must – distribute the aid and spend time with the suffering people of Sudan. We may not be able to speak the same language, but what our hearts speak to each other is unmistakable. We have been told by many that it means the world to these people to have foreigners come and be with them, especially those of us who are willing to enter these No-Go zones and actually spend the night with them, sleeping on the ground, sharing briefly with them what they encounter every day.
We are determined and will continue to serve these precious people who are all too familiar with what it means to suffer from the cruel, merciless attacks of a regime that is determined to bring to an end their existence.