Nairobi (CNSNews.com) - The United States government has expressed outrage at the Sudanese government for bombing villages in southern Sudan and wantonly killing innocent civilians - children included.
Dr. Susan Rice, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, spoke Monday in Nairobi, after returning from a two-day humanitarian fact-finding mission in southern, rebel-held areas of Africa's largest country.
"The people are paralyzed with fear, she said. "The bombings have terrorized and traumatized them."
As part of her tour, Rice visited a mission hospital, which was bombed earlier this year. She asked the international community to put pressure on Sudan's Islamist government to stop the bombings.
The United States is the biggest single donor of humanitarian assistance to southern Sudan and has donated around $1.5 billion in aid to the rebel-held areas in the past decade.
Rice said incidents of rape, torture, slavery, and abduction continue to be reported in the villages, but the Sudanese government was not prosecuting those responsible for the crimes. Some locals were being forced to convert to Islam against their wishes, she said.
Rice pledged the U.S. government's continued support of the oppressed people ofSudan, saying it will assist them in rehabilitation and construction of schools and improvement of infrastructure. But she made it clear that the United States will not intervene in Sudan's internal affairs.
The United States is interested only in promoting peace and democracy, she said. "The United States' policy is not to support overtly or covertly any side from a military point of view."
Rice is one of the few senior U.S. officials to visit rebel-held southern Sudan, and she said the United States would work tirelessly to stamp out slavery.
The United Nations estimates that up to 15,000 southern Sudanese, mostly women and children, have been abducted in raids on southern villages by Arab militiamen in the last decade and taken to the north to be sold as slaves.
But Sudan's government and parts of the international community have refused to accept that the practice still exists in a nation with a history of slave trading.
"Part of why I am here is to show the world that despite what the government in Khartoum says, despite what some of our partners in the European Union may want to pretend...slavery exists, it has to be acknowledged and it has to be addressed," Rice added.
"We have an obligation not only to speak out but to ameliorate the suffering," she pointed out.
The United States, which accuses Khartoum's Islamist government of sponsoring international terrorism, imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions on Sudan in 1997, something that prevents U.S. companies from investing in the country's newfound oil wealth.
The United States says the Sudanese government aids and abets Arab militia in raiding southern villages, usually on horseback, to loot, burn and leave with a booty of
cattle and slaves.
Rebels from the mainly black African, Christian and animist south of Sudan have been fighting the government for 17 years for greater freedoms. They accuse the Sudanese government of trying to depopulate and terrorize rebel-held areas.
Rice said the racial and religious dimensions of Sudan's civil war "cut to the core" of the struggles of American history.
"The Sudan issue resonates in a way with the American public on a scale we haven't seen since the anti-apartheid movement," she said. She added that U.S. policy on Sudan had wide political support at home and she did not expect that policy to be "subject to significant revision" by the next administration.
War has plagued much of the Sudan for 33 of the 44 years since it gained independence from Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1956. The latest conflict broke out in 1983 and is seen largely as a fight between the predominantly Christian, African south, which is seeking greater autonomy and religious freedom, and the largely Muslim, Arab government of the north.
In reality, things are far more complex, involving historical power struggles, competition for resources, ethnicity, religion and politics.
More than two million people have died as a result of fighting and war-related famine since 1983, and millions more have been forced to flee their homes.
The United States, more than any other Western country, has denounced the government of President Omar el-Bashir for human rights abuses as well as for sponsoring international terrorism.
In 1997, Washington imposed sanctions on Sudan, and in 1998, U.S. aircraft bombed a pharmaceutical factory in the capital, Khartoum, alleging it was being used for terrorist purposes.