With international attention focused on the conflict in South Sudan, the government of neighbouring Sudan has ratcheted up aerial bombings to stamp out an insurgency, targeting areas "clearly identifiable as civilian", with no military presence, and resulting in the highest number of civilian casualties since the conflict began in 2011, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report by the Sudan Consortium, a coalition of more than 50 Africa-based NGOs, said that on Dec. 20, one week after fighting broke out in South Sudan, the Sudanese Armed Forces launched the first of a series of ground offensives into South Kordofan state, aiming to seize control of the road linking South Kordofan with South Sudan.
Human rights monitors on the ground in South Kordofan tallied 56 separate Sudanese Air Force bomb attacks in December - representing a threefold increase from November and the highest since the conflict in South Kordofan began in 2011, the consortium said. The monitors counted 35 such bombings in the first half of January.
From Dec. 15 to Jan. 15, air force bombs killed 22 people and seriously wounded 41 others, it said.
"With international community's attention focused on unfolding events in South Sudan, President (Omar Hassan al-Bashir) of Sudan has taken the opportunity to a launch a major military offensive against the armed opposition forces who have controlled significant areas of Sudan's Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States since they took up arms against the Khartoum government in 2011," the report said.
"All the attacks referred to in this report were launched against areas where there was no military presence and which were clearly identifiable as civilian in character."
The Sudanese Armed Forces have been at war with the rebel Sudan Revolutionary Front since 2011, resulting in the destruction of homes, schools and medical clinics.
More than half a million people fled the states of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan in 2013 because of bombing by government forces, according to Human Rights Watch, with 230,000 living in refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia as of December.
However, the consortium said that many Sudanese civilians now find themselves trapped between the escalating conflict in their own country - with "bombers which circle overhead on a daily basis" - and highly unstable neighbouring South Sudan, where there are fears of a prolonged civil war.
The Sudan government's "deliberate strategy of waging war against its own population" appears to indicate that those commanding counterinsurgency operations are conducting a "scorched earth policy aimed at displacing or destroying the civilian population in the communities from which the opposition fighters are drawn," the consortium's report concluded.