News today that South Sudan is celebrating it’s birth as a new nation. South and North Sudan battled two civil wars over more than five decades, culminating in a 2005 peace deal that led to today’s independence declaration.
I traveled there at the end of the 1990′s to document the struggle for survival in remote villages and I was fortunate to spend some time with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The area I stayed in was subject to frequent aerial bombardment by the Northern Sudanese government forces using Helicopter gunships and old Russian Antonov aircraft bombers. To get there, the four seater Cessna plane I traveled in was forced to fly under the radar, 500 feet above ground, to avoid detection. After landing on a remote strip of land in the South, we were told that an SPLA anti-aircraft gun had our plane in its’ sights and at the last minute an emergency radio message was sent to allow us safe passage. A close shave indeed!
The troops that I followed were lightly armed and used child soldiers, some as young as 10 years old, to fight on the front line. Not surprisingly, casualty rates amongst them were high. I saw and photographed many casualties.
It now remains to be seen whether both sides can put an end to this bitter fighting and move ahead peacefully for the sake of future generations.