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George Clooney stands by an unidentified body in Nuba, Sudan. YouTube/Enough Project

Why is George Clooney watching Sudan via satellite?

Here’s what you need to know about ongoing problems between North African states Sudan and South Sudan.

SUDAN AND SOUTH Sudan have been hitting the headlines recently amid ongoing violence, concerns of an escalating humanitarian crisis, and… George Clooney.

But what is going on in Sudan and South Sudan? And what do you need to know about it?

So what was the connection between George Clooney’s recent arrest and Sudan?

George Clooney was among a group of protesters (including his father and a US Congressman) recently arrested outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington DC.

Clooney and other activists have accused Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir of blocking humanitarian aid and supplies to the now-independent South Sudan, which they say could lead to a major humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. They also accuse his government of attacking civilians (as per Clooney’s video below).

Who is al-Bashir?

He has the dubious honour of being the subject of the Intenational Criminal Court’s first-ever warrant on genocide. Al-Bashir came to power in a military coup in 1989 – though part of the Sudan of that time has since declared its independence and is now known as South Sudan.

The ICC warrant says that Al-Bashir is accused of a number of war crimes including forcible transfer, torture, and genocide. The genocide was allegedly committed in Darfur, where civilians have reportedly been targeted by Sudanese forces as the government attempts to quell insurgency. Despite the ICC warrant, Bashir recently travelled to Baghdad for the latest Arab League summit.

How did South Sudan become independent?

Sudan gained independence from Britain in 1956, after which it became embroiled in two lengthy civil wars centred on the political domination of the largely non-Arab and non-Muslim south. The second war broke out in 1983 and led to a serious famine and the deaths of an estimated 2 million people over the following 20 years.

Peace talks in 2004 led to  in a peace agreement the following year and a referendum on South Sudan gaining independence in January 2011; it became independent on 9 July.

However, rebel groups such as Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North continue to mount attacks against Sudan’s government and vice-versa, particularly in the Blue Nile state and South Kordofan. Thousands of people have fled the fighting and are now living in refugee camps in South Sudan and in neighbouring Chad and Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government is also being blamed for airstrikes on civilian areas in an effort to weed out rebel groups who do not recognise its authority. In late March, Al Jazeera reported that the governor of South Kordofan was recorded ordering his troops not to take any prisoners in their battles with rebels. Sudan’s government denied the claims, saying he had been misunderstood.

Clooney co-founded the Satellite Sentinel Project which monitors and maps airstrikes and artillery attacks on civilian areas to compile evidence of war crimes, and to warn civilians of the possibility of impending attacks.

The actor recently visited the rebel-held Nuba region in Sudan with the Enough Project to document Sudanese strikes on civilians:

(WARNING: video contains footage some may find disturbing)

(Video uploaded by ENOUGHproject)

And how are relations between Sudan and South Sudan now?

Concerns are mounting that deteriorating relations between Sudan and South Sudan will see the two embroiled in another war.

Despite the 2005 peace agreement and independence last year, skirmishes between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces continue over the designation of their shared border, oil supplies, and the supply route through Sudan to landlocked South Sudan.

Under the 2005 peace agreement, South Sudan was to retain half of the former Sudan’s oil proceeds, but this arrangement ended upon it gaining independence and negotiations over continuing to divide the proceeds broke down early this year. South Sudan has since halted all of its oil production.

US President Obama recently spoke to South Sudan’s President Kiir to express “concern about the growing tensions…especially the violent clashes along their shared border and renewed fighting in Southern Kordofan State”, according to the White House.

The talks BBC Sudan and South Sudan correspondent James Copnall refer to in this recent tweet were swiftly suspended as the rival military forces clashed in the oil-producing region along their border:

What are the main humanitarian concerns right now?

As George Clooney et al have said, strained relations between Sudan and South Sudan and the ongoing violence are affecting transport and trade, cutting off vital supplies to the already-underdeveloped South.

Oxfam’s Alun McDonald points out that not enough supplies are getting to the South Sudanese camps where refugees from the Blue Nile state in Sudan have sought shelter, while IRIN reports that water quality and scarcity are causing serious health problems at the camps.

US officials recently said that of 4.7 million people who will be ‘food insecure’ in South Sudan in 2012, an estimated 1 million face severe food insecurity. USAID said that it estimates that up to 250,000 people are in emergency food security conditions already.

Darfur’s Radio Dabanga recently confirmed with the UNHCR that the quarter of a million people who fled from Darfur to Chad are still living in a dozen refugee camps there and are showing no signs of returning home:

MSF doctor Kirrily de Polnay documents her work for the aid agency in South Sudan in the following video, and says time is running out for some of the refugees because the seasonal rains expected at the end of April will render the huge refugee camps in Doro and Jamam inaccessible:

(Video uploaded by MSF)

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