Co-authored by Julie Flint
Soon after the Nuba Mountains region of central Sudan exploded in war two weeks ago, a patrol from the United Nations peacekeeping force was detained by Sudanese government soldiers and subjected to a mock firing squad in the soldiers' divisional headquarters.
First the peacekeepers were lined up. Then an officer cocked his AK-47 and pointed it at them. He demanded that they leave South Kordofan state, the ancestral home of the Nuba people, and warned: "We will kill you if you come back here."
The U.N. mission in South Kordofan is the only international protection for the Nuba people, the forgotten victims of Sudan's 22-year civil war. South Sudan will finally earn freedom from the Khartoum regime when the South becomes independent on July 9. But the Nuba, trapped along the North-South border, will remain within Khartoum's reach.
The peacekeepers meant to protect the Nuba cannot even protect themselves. They are out-gunned and out-numbered by Sudanese government forces who have dropped 500-pound bombs less than 2,500 feet from U.N. mission headquarters in the state capital, Kadugli. On Monday, Sudanese forces threatened to shoot down any U.N. flights over South Kordofan.
Now, the peacekeeping force is under orders from Khartoum to leave South Kordofan by July 9, the day South Sudan becomes independent. If it is pushed out, who will remain in South Kordofan to bear witness to the atrocities that are already unfolding? International staff working for non-U.N. agencies have already left Kadugli -- every last one of them.
The U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, has said there is not yet evidence that the new Nuba war amounts to "ethnic cleansing." But confidential U.N. reports that we've seen speak of "wide-scale exactions against unarmed civilians with specific targeting of African tribes," and of people targeted "along racial/ethnic lines."
The Nuba live on the southern edge of Sudan's Arabized north. As black Africans, they have always been regarded as second-class citizens by Sudan's northern elites. Many fought alongside the southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the civil war from 1985 until a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains in 2002, hoping to end their marginalization and preserve their unique culture.
Long before the Khartoum regime launched its war on Darfur, it attempted to destroy life in the rural Nuba Mountains and resettle the entire population of insurgent areas in camps where Nuba identity would be eradicated. Community leaders and intellectuals were killed; villages were burned to the ground.
Despite the Nuba people's immense suffering, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 did not satisfy their aspirations -- including their demand for self-determination. What little the peace agreement did offer was neglected as Darfur monopolized international attention.
Today the international community is making another mistake. It is failing to understand that this is not a conflict that can be resolved by North-South negotiations. This is a North-North conflict. The so-called Three Areas along the North-South divide -- Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile -- are regions with particular histories and problems that remain largely unaddressed. Without urgent attention to South Kordofan, next month's partition may well ignite a new civil war.
Hundreds of thousands of Nuba are already on the move, fleeing from tanks, artillery and aerial bombardment. Humanitarian access has been shut down. A week ago, U.N. peacekeepers warned of a humanitarian crisis that they are "not sufficiently prepared to counter."
Apart from a couple of statements in the U.N. Security Council, the international community has failed to put the plight of the Nuba people on its agenda. President Obama must understand that the conflagration in South Kordofan has the potential to bring down the whole edifice built by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The Nuba Mountains require an immediate ceasefire with unconditional humanitarian access, followed by a robust monitoring mission on the ground and resolution of the grievances that caused conflict in the first place.
The Nuba Mountains were killing fields a decade before Darfur. Are they doomed to be again?
Ms. Farrow, an actor and advocate, has traveled to Sudan 16 times. Ms. Flint has reported from the Nuba Mountains for 20 years.
This post originally appeared at WSJ.com.