It’s common for villages all over South Kordofan to be burnt to the ground, but this is the first time we’ve caught Sudanese forces doing it on video.
When we went to Um Bartumbu, we took a village elder with us. He walked around with us and explained how everything happened. We also talked to the SPLM-N soldier who found the video after her unit attacked the Match Battalion in a separate incident. The elder explained that the village had been razed in different stages.
What happened was that as the Match Battalion approached Um Bartumbu, the villagers heard the gun shots and fled. When the battalion arrived, the village was completely empty and they torched all the houses. They returned to the village two or three times afterwards to loot everything they couldn’t carry the first time.
They took all the remaining grain and food, roofing materials, as well as the doors and windows off of buildings like the grind mill and the local clinic. They even took the entire roof off of the village church.
“Every single person from Um Bartumbu was forced to leave their home”
By the time we visited the village there was nothing left. It looked like a ghost town. Every single person from Um Bartumbu was forced to leave their home – the place where they were born and had built their lives – to escape the Match Battalion. They fled so quickly they couldn’t take much with them, and they had to ask for food from neighbouring villages.
The Nuba people are farmers and work hard to provide enough for their families. It was shameful for them to have to ask others for food. They felt looked down upon, and as if they were a burden on the community.
"The woman who pulled the video was able to identify one of the soldiers in the footage because he came from her village"
We came to the conclusion that the Match Battalion is part of the Sudanese Armed Forces not just through our interviews but also by studying the footage. In the video you can see that the men are wearing uniforms that look like SAF uniforms, and they speak to each other in military orders. There’s clearly one person who’s in charge, who barks out commands and tells members of the unit to stop playing around – which could imply that they’re on a specific mission.
Secondly, if you look at Um Bartumbu’s recent election records, almost 100 percent of the people voted for SPLM party leadership in 2011 [before the unrest began, the movement’s political faction took part in state elections
]. This seems to indicate they were attacked by government forces, not the SPLM-N. Why would the SPLM-N attack a village where they have an overwhelming amount of support? Also, when the village was attacked, its inhabitants fled to SPLM-N controlled areas, because they felt safe there.
Lastly, the woman who pulled the video found it on a mobile phone she had taken out of the pocket of a dead soldier and she was able to identify one of the soldiers in the footage because he came from her village. He is apparently known in the region as a member of Popular Defense Force, which is a branch of the Sudanese Armed Forces.
“The Nuba people believe this is an ethnic cleansing to move them off of the land”
In my opinion, the Match Battalion was acting on orders from higher up to burn the village down. There are several reasons why they would be instructed to do so. One is that the majority of people there and in the Nuba Mountains support the SPLM-N. The SPLM-N fighters grew up in the region, and that families still live in these towns. Another reason is that they want to demoralise the people.
Talking to the Nuba people, I often ask why they think these things happen. They call it an ethnic cleansing, intended to move them off the land. Recently, cluster bombs have also been used
against the local population. We found four of them in the Nuba mountains.