Satellite imagery had revealed the existence of two more mass graves in a contested region of Sudan, bringing the total number of mass graves sited there to eight, a U.S. monitoring group said Wednesday.
The Satellite Sentinel Project, a group backed by actor and Sudan activist George Clooney, said that witnesses told the group that a backhoe was used to dig some of the graves at sites in Kadugli, South Kordofan. Workers with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society were present during some of the burials, the group said.
The U.S. group has not made any estimates of the number of bodies it believes have been buried in the graves, saying that onsite research would need to be carried out.
South Kordofan lies just across the border from newly independent South Sudan and has been the site of clashes between government troops from Sudan's Arab north and black tribesmen aligned with the south's Sudan People's Liberation Movement. Many inhabitants of South Kordofan fought for the south during the country's two decades-plus civil war against the north and are ethnically linked to the south.
A report released this month by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva said Sudanese security forces allegedly carried out indiscriminate aerial bombardments in South Kordofan that killed civilians in the weeks before South Sudan became independent on July 9. It also alleged that Sudanese forces executed prisoners accused of belonging to the south's Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement before burying them in mass graves.
"The evidence against the Sudanese government continues to compound and has now become impossible to dismiss. It is time for the international community to take serious action and execute its responsibility to protect innocent lives in Sudan," said John Prendergast, co-founder of the activist group the Enough Project.
The Sudanese Red Crescent Society has said that it buried 59 bodies in marked burial sites in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan state, between mid-June and mid-July.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it supplied body bags, rubber boots and cameras to SRCS teams tasked with the management of dead bodies, according to spokeswoman Anna Schaaf. The ICRC is not on the ground in South Kordofan.
The satellite group in July reported the first three mass graves as excavated areas measuring about 26 yards by 5 yards visible near a school in the town of Kadugli. The group said that an eyewitness reported seeing 100 bodies or more put into one of the pits on June 8.
Sudan's U.N. envoy dismissed the allegations.
"There is no proof of mass graves there," Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman told Reuters.
Osman added that there have undoubtedly been numerous casualties in the region but said they were caused by the army of newly independent South Sudan, which seceded from Khartoum last month.
Southern Kordofan holds most of Sudan's known oil reserves after the south split away and took its oilfields with it.
Activists have accused Khartoum of launching airstrikes and attacks in Southern Kordofan, targeting the state's ethnic Nuba group, in a bid to stamp out opposition and assert its authority after South Sudan's independence.
The United Nations said tens of thousands have fled the violence in the territory.