Tuesday April 17, 2001
Representatives of the Nuba people of central Sudan have vowed to continue fighting the Islamist government in Khartoum despite the death of Yousif Kuwa, who led the resistance in the Nuba mountains for 16 years, and the UN's failure to deliver on a promise of desperately needed food and relief.
In his first act as military governor of rebel territory in the Nuba mountains since Kuwa's death on March 31, Abdel Aziz Adam el-Helo last week convened the Nuba's advisory council, or parliament.
More than 200 delegates who had walked for up to three days to attend the meeting voted unanimously against surrender, according to Commander Helo, who leads the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the region.
"They said: 'Yousif brought us out of the caves and opened the door for us to express ourselves as Nuba'," Commander Helo said in an interview in the secret mountain location where Kuwa was buried with full military honours on April 10.
"Yousif's death has depressed people because he was a teacher and a father, but they are still committed. People are determined - they want a way out," he said.
In the year before his death, illness kept Kuwa away from the mountains. Government troops, militias and "holy warriors" captured much of the Nuba's best agricultural land, forcing starving civilians to flee to government garrisons where the only possible identity is an Arab-Islamic one.
Ambushes and rape increased significantly in the plains between the mountains, cut off from the world since the National Islamic Front seized power in 1989.
Since arriving among the African Nuba two months ago, Commander Helo - a friend of Kuwa and reputed to be one of the SPLA's most effective leaders - has been reorganising to try to seize the initiative for the first time in a decade.
He has two priorities: "To recapture productive land and to ensure that the democratic process instituted by Yousif continues and flourishes."
Morale was high at Kuwa's funeral as 120 soldiers escorted the coffin to the foothills from the rough airstrip that is the Nubas' only gateway to the world. "Yousif had the vision. Abdel Aziz is the man to implement that vision," a mourner said.