The governor of Sudan’s Southern Kordofan has been filmed addressing troops before a battle with rebel fighters urging them to “take no prisoners”.
In footage obtained by Al Jazeera, Ahmed Harun, the state governor who has already been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity in Darfur, is captured on camera telling his soldiers to take strong action against anyone who comes in their way.
Southern Kordofan holds most of Sudan’s remaining known oil reserves, after South Sudan seceded in July 2011, taking its oilfields with it.
Southern Kordofan has become a strategic asset for Khartoum, but rebels there want to follow Juba and be granted independence from Khartoum.
The footage shows Sudanese troops stationed in a captured base involved in a gun battle with rebel forces.
Harun is addressing his soldiers before they enter rebel territory by saying: “You must hand over the place clean. Swept, rubbed, crushed. Don’t bring them back alive. We have no space for them.”
An army commander standing near Harun then says: “Don’t bring them back, eat them alive.”
General Jogot Mekwar, who is from the Southern Kordofan rebel forces after watching the video told Al Jazeera: “What Ahmed Haroun says is inhumane. He wants to enslave people, and he has a hatred against humanity.”
“From our perspective, the things he says are the reason the court has issued an arrest warrant.”
Sudan’s government said Harun’s comments were “not interpreted correctly,” Rabi Abdel Atti, a senior adviser to Sudan’s information ministry, told Al Jazeera from Khartoum on Saturday.
“He is not ordering the soldiers to kill civilians but to kill rebels; this is war,” Abdel Atti said.
“What was said by the Southern Kordofan governor to the soldiers is in the context of mobilisation of soldiers to confront and to chase the rebels to the south where they are coming from.
“What do you want us to do if rebels come and invade the area and threaten civilians and disturb peace and security in the area? I think that what is said by the governor is absolutely correct to confront those.
“They are coming to kill our soldiers and our soldiers have a right to kill them.”
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Khartoum, said people in Sudan felt Harun’s comments should not be taken out of context.
“People here are saying that this statement by Ahmed Harun should not be taken as a literal order to the Sudanese soldiers to kill those rebels and not to take any prisoners,” he said.
“They said Ahmend Harun was smiling, he was in an unofficial way talking to those soldiers in a situation which is locally understood … as a way to raise the fighting spirit of the soldiers but not giving them a specific and definite order to kill.
“However, it can be understood outside Sudan as a literal statement, given that Ahmed Harun has been accused by the ICC with those crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
“In that context it can be very much understood as going into the same direction and kind of evidence of what has been levelled against Harun.”
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor for the ICC, told Al Jazeera the video footage was part of a pattern of behaviour for Harun.
“A commander has a responsibility to ensure that his troops are not violating the law. He cannot encourage them to commit crimes,” Moreno-Ocampo said.
“‘Take no prisoners’ means a crime against humanity or a war crime, because if the prisoner was a combatant it is a war crime and if the pisoner was a civilian it’s a crime against humanity.
“In both cases, it confirms the pattern that Mr Harun should be arrested and brought before the ICC to stop the crimes.”
In 2007 the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Harun for his alleged role targeting rebel groups in Darfur by funding and arming the Janjaweed armed group to incite attacks against civilian forces.
The charges against him constitute some 50 counts of atrocities including murder, mass rape and torture.
Harun has always denied the accusations, and was quoted as saying the violence “never happened in the first place”.
According to the UN, tens of thousands have fled the violence in the Nuba Mountain region since July 2011.
The world body has called for an investigation into reports of human rights abuses in the territory.
Sudan’s government has dismissed those accusations, and in turn has accused rebel groups, many of whom fought alongside South Sudan during decades of civil war with the Khartoum government, of launching a rebellion to try and control the territory.
Tensions have been high since Harun, who is a member of President Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party won the state governorship election, in a vote that some opposition groups said was rigged.