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Rights groups say satellite photos foreshadow Sudan fighting

January 26, 2012 |  4:32 pm

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, right, shakes hands with Abdullah Nagi, an official from Chad,

A coalition of human rights groups conceived by actor George Clooney warns that new satellite photos show grave signs that the Sudanese government is gearing up to attack the Nuba people in the country's South Kordofan state.

Many of the Nuba people sided with southern rebels in their war with the mostly Muslim Arab north. When South Sudan became an independent nation last year, the Nuba Mountains region remained in Sudan.

U.S. and other Western officials have feared that government attacks along the new border with South Sudan could tip Sudan into war again.

Sudan has cut off the evacuation route for refugees and built elevated roads to push into the Nuba Mountains, charged Jonathan Hutson, a spokesman for the Enough Project, one of the groups that is part of the Satellite Sentinel Project. That mirrors what the group spotted from satellites in March before the northern army seized control of a disputed region in what was then central Sudan, forcing thousands to flee.

"We warned the world, 'The government of Sudan is poised for assault,'" Hutson said. "Six weeks later, they did what we predicted. The world failed to heed our warning." This time, he said, "there’s a chance to save hundreds of thousands of Nuba lives if the world will simply pay attention."

Here is one of the images the group released in its report Wednesday, which labels attack helicopters on an airstrip in South Kordofan:

Satellite photo

The Satellite Sentinel Project brings analysts from DigitalGlobe and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative together with human rights groups to monitor and report on possible hot spots for violence. It tracks where the Sudanese government amasses artillery and builds roads.

Hutson said Clooney came up with the idea, saying that if he couldn’t get away from the cameras of the paparazzi, neither should the Sudanese government.

The International Criminal Court is using images gathered by the group as evidence of possible war crimes by Sudanese officials, Time magazine reported in December. Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir has already been charged with war crimes in connection with the devastating conflict in the Darfur region.

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-- Emily Alpert

Photo: Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, right, shakes hands with Abdullah Nagi, an official from Chad, during a ceremony Jan. 20 in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Credit: Ashraf Shazly / AFP/Getty Images.

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