By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood January 27, 2011 at 9:53AM
"We're the anti-genocide paparazzi," George Clooney told Time magazine of his Satellite Sentinel Project.
While in Sudan with John Prendergast on a "fact-finding mission" last October, Clooney hatched the idea of starting the Satellite Sentinel Project, which is funded primarily by Not On Our Watch (founded by Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman and Jerry Weintraub). SSP is the first public effort to monitor and report on potential hotspots and threats to security along Sudan's North-South border.
The intro to SSP's website explains the conflict, and news from SSP's latest report on the state of Sudan's border is below:
"A new state is being born in Southern Sudan against a backdrop of decades of war between the South and North of Sudan. A peace deal in 2005 ended the latest round of open conflict, but the possibility of a return to war remains high as Southern Sudan prepares for independence.
One of the biggest risks in this dangerous moment is that an incident on the highly armed border could lead to wider conflict. The government in Khartoum has armed militias in contested bordering regions, the government air force has bombed border areas, and both sides have massed military units and equipment along the hottest border spots.
These areas have witnessed some of the most deadly conflict in the world since World War II. The former director of national intelligence says that Southern Sudan is the place in the world most likely to experience genocide.
We can’t allow another deadly war, and we surely cannot stand by in the face of a genocide threat."
The SSP has confirmed that Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) troops have been deployed with armor and artillery in Sudan's volatile South Kordofan area, which includes the oil-producing Abyei region and the North-South border. This, combined with authoritative sources which include the Small Arms Survey, indicate that some 55,000 SAF troops have massed along both sides of the border (approximately half the strength of Sudan's regular army). According to this report, the troops are not poised for immediate forward movement, allowing a chance for peace-making efforts to intervene in the North-South conflict. The images were analyzed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and provided via commercial satellite firm DigitalGlobe. In league with field reports provided by Enough Project, an overview understanding of what is happening in the conflicted region.
"These first images and analysis have deepened our understanding of the evolving situation following Southern Sudan’s historic vote on independence. Although the SAF in South Kordofan apparently remains a force largely in hiding, we showed they are field-deployed, and they are controlling major roads by running checkpoints. Though they are not showing signs of advancing, we confirmed that they’re equipped with helicopter transport, artillery, armored personnel carriers and trucks. Our first report represents the best recent information on the military situation in Sudan publicly available.”
Prendergast, co-founder of both the Enough Project and Satellite Sentinel Project, says:
"We are focusing on the areas along the border where the most likely conflicts may occur. The idea is to monitor these hotspots and deter human rights crimes before they happen. The imagery we captured does not reveal any violations of the CPA by either side so far. Yet in the absence of negotiated post-referendum arrangements, and given the unresolved status of Abyei, continued vigilance is required.”
Retired Majors General Paul Eaton and James "Spider" Marks donated their expertise to the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and concur with the findings. Eaton says the SSP "has broken new ground and is providing not just a new tool, but a new toolbox for promoting peace by safeguarding civilians.”
The findings of SSP's report include the following:
• SAF deployments near Muglad, Kadugli, Kharassana and other areas appear to be deployed at company strength, in groups of 75 to 225 troops, equipped with helicopter transport, light armor and artillery.
• Importantly, these troops do not appear to be preparing to move in the near future. SSP has documented roadwork near known and suspected military bases, but the images do not show major movement of fuel trucks, supply convoys, and troop transports consistent with imminent forward operations.
• The report documents checkpoints reported by the U.N. north of Abyei Town on the road to Diffra in the oil-producing northern part of Abyei's territory. The checkpoints are in the same region where busloads of southerners returning home from the North have been ambushed and held. Returnees have reported many cases of rape.
• These images demonstrate SSP’s ability to monitor the movements and activity of armed actors. SSP is watching all actors in Sudan and both sides of the border.
You can donate to Not On Our Watch, follow SSP on Twitter and send a petition to President Obama here.
[Photo: Tim Freccia / Enough Project]