By Peter Martell, in Lourja for AFP
17th February, 2010
Scars on Severion Wayet's arms reveal where the flesh-burrowing Guinea worms burst through her skin.
It was an agonising process that lasted days as the worms, measuring around one metre (three feet) in length, fought their way out of her body.
"They were very painful, you cannot rest or sleep," the young mother said, her baby resting on her back in a goatskin carrying pouch.
Her village of Lojura, a remote settlement in the hot, dusty bush of south Sudan's Central Equatoria state, already has enough to deal with following a brutal civil war that ended just five years ago.
But it is also one of the world's worst areas for Guinea worm.
Also known as dracunculiasis, from the Latin for "little dragons", the worm is a particularly painful water-borne parasite that can leave people weakened and sick for months every year.
Spread by contaminated drinking water, the worm larvae grow into wriggling creatures up to a metre in length, and mate inside the human body.
After about a year, the white worms dig through the body towards the skin, releasing chemicals to burn the flesh and then spewing thousands of larvae as they exit.
"Many people have suffered from the worms, but we want them to end," said Wayet. "I do not want my children to suffer like that."
Now a final drive is being made to eradicate the worms for good.
The Carter Centre - the not-for-profit organisation founded by former US president Jimmy Carter - has been working in Sudan since 1989 to exterminate the worm once and for all.
He said that when they started their project in southern Sudan they found more than 100,000 cases of infection.
"Last year we had about 2,500 cases, and we believe that in the next two or three years we will have zero cases of Guinea worm in Sudan," he said during a mid-February visit to Lojura where he met worm-infected villagers.
Infections worldwide have been cut by 99 per cent from around 3.9 million people in 1986 to 3,500 in 2009, according to the World Health Organisation.
Now the worms are found only in small and isolated pockets of Ghana, Mali and Ethiopia, with its final main stronghold in grossly underdeveloped south Sudan.
Read the rest here.
By Peter Martell
BBC News, Juba
20 January 2010
Cheers of support rang out in Southern Sudan as President Omar al-Bashir said he would accept the result of a referendum next year - even if the oil-rich south voted for independence.
In the town of Yambio, where Mr Bashir was speaking at celebrations to mark five years since the end of the north-south war, the crowds shouted and waved the south's flag with wide smiles.
Mr Bashir said his northern National Congress Party did not want the south to secede, but would support the choice of the people.
It is a message dear to hearts of the people in the south.
"If the result of the referendum is separation, then we in the NCP will be the first to take note of this decision and to support it," said Mr Bashir, a soldier who spent long years battling to crush the southern rebel fighters.
It was his closest acknowledgement yet of the possibility of separation, and was well received.
Many were optimistic his unusually conciliatory tone bodes well for the south, where opinion on the streets seems overwhelmingly for separation.
Mr Bashir, in a broadcast shown on national television, joined the south's President Salva Kiir on top of an open pick-up truck, waving with his trademark stick to crowds in the packed stadium.
Both will have bitter memories of the long years they fought each other, yet they seemed keen to swallow any personal distrust to show the public that they can work together for the sake of their people.
Mr Bashir was even seen to nod in time to the music of a military parade in front of him by the south's army - former rebel fighters who were once his sworn enemies.Read the rest here.
By Peter Martell, in Pochalla for AFP
07 December 2009
Girls and boys in southern Sudan do not need bogeyman scare stories to make them behave: the child snatchers are real.
"They come with guns and steal our children, then kill the rest of us," said Aballa Abich, a tired-looking mother waiting for food aid deliveries in the troubled state of Jonglei.
"Day or night they can attack. We are frightened to let our children out of our sight," added Abich, who comes from the Anyuak people of Pochalla, one of several peoples in the ethnically divided region.
Hundreds of children have been abducted into slavery in a series of bloody clashes between rival groups - including Abich's five-year-old nephew.
"They took him two years ago when he was out hunting in the bush," Abich said sadly. "There has been no news since, only attacks taking more children."
Clashes between the Anyuak's cow-herding neighbours in south Sudan erupt frequently, often provoked by cattle rustling, disputes over grazing or in revenge for previous attacks.
But the small-scale battles have grown in frequency and size in the remote and swampy region which remains awash with automatic weapons from the 22-year civil war between north and south Sudan, which formally ended in 2005.
A series of bloody raids this year has left many people in shock, and there has been a sharp increase in attacks apparently deliberately targeting women and children.
At least 370 children have been snatched in southern Sudan during inter-ethnic violence this year alone, the United Nations estimates.
But other officials give warning that the total could be far larger.Read the rest here.
By Peter Martell
BBC News, Nuba Mountains, Sudan
24 November 2009
If one still remained unsure as to who controls the green hills at the geographical heart of Africa's largest nation, the arrival form spells it out.
"Welcome to the liberated areas," the official said proudly, greeting those climbing out the small aeroplane that had just bounced down on the sandy airstrip in central Sudan.
The crest of the ex-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) heads the form."Welcome to the Nuba Mountains," the official added with a smile.
The scattered settlements of green farms and thatch huts were a key base for the SPLA guerrillas in their fight against the Arab-dominated and Muslim north - a two-decades long conflict fought over religion, resources and ethnicity.Read the rest here.
By Peter Martell
BBC News, Khartoum
5 March 2009
Waving a stick in the air in front of a supportive crowd of thousands, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir punched the air to roars of support.
He looked little like a man on his first full day as an international fugitive - following an arrest warrant on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Some 10,000 protesters crammed themselves into central Khartoum in support of the president, following the issuing on Wednesday of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.
Instead Mr Bashir scoffed at the warrant, telling the mass rally in the packed downtown district of Khartoum that Western leaders were the real criminals.
He in turn accused the United States of genocide against the Native American Indians, as well as in Vietnam and in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.
"The true criminals are the leaders of the United States and Europe," he told the crowds to loud cheers.
"One day we will take them to justice," he added.
It was not clear if the president was joking, but the crowd loved it.Read the rest here.
By Peter Martell
BBC News, Mundri
28 January 2009
it was just after dawn when the rebels seized Josephine Munda, grabbing the schoolgirl and her two sisters from their sleepy farming village in South Sudan.
All night they had lain hidden in the thick surrounding forest, after Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) guerrillas shot a policeman in her village of Bangolo.
The girls had been laughing as they made their way home. Then the rebels struck.
"We thought it was safe, that they had gone," the 11-year old says softly, looking to the ground. She puts her arm around her eight-year old brother protectively.
He escaped in the long grass when the rebels came. "They tied us tightly, around the waist," Josephine adds.
"There were eight of us children - both boys and girls. I was very scared - they made us march for hours and hours."
But Josephine, the smallest of the group, was lucky.Read the rest here
By Peter Martell
10 March, 2008
Deep inside the tall towers of Eritrea's Ministry of Information, the battle-scarred war veteran leaned towards me across his desk.
His finger pointed towards a heavily-underlined copy of a report I had written the day before.
"Why," he said, spluttering with rage, "do you say we silence critics?"
The former rebel, now a top official in the information ministry, was angry because I refused to name two ex-freedom fighters I had quoted expressing disillusionment at life in Eritrea today.
"You will not work again, until you tell us the names of the people," he added.
Given Eritrea's grim record for jailing its critics, I declined politely to reveal the names.
I was then made to surrender my work permit.After just over a year reporting from Asmara, it was my last official story from inside Eritrea.Read the rest here.
BBC News, Asmara
11 September 2007
Western governments once held Eritrea up as a beacon of hope for Africa.
Eritrea is accused of supplying weapons to Somali militant groups
Fiercely self-reliant, the continent's youngest nation was hailed at its independence in 1993 for its determination to rebuild after its devastating 30-year liberation war from arch-foe Ethiopia.
It developed close links with the west.
Asmara swiftly offered support in 2001 to the United States to tackle international terrorism, while Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki was called a "renaissance leader" by then US President Bill Clinton.
Relations have soured between Eritrea and Western nations - especially the US - further than ever before, analysts say.
Read the rest here.