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Nearly 100 civilians killed in Sudan army takeover of Abyei

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An internally displaced child from Abyei cries as he waits for food aid in Turalei May 27, 2011.

The head of the Abyei administration Deng Arop Kuol, said on Thursday he believes that close to 100 people have been killed in the fighting that saw the northern military take control of the disputed border region.

Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir announced that Abyei’s civilian administration had been abolished shortly after taking control of the oil-producing region on May 21.

In Juba on Thursday youth groups from the contested border region called for foreign military intervention to end the occupation of the area by Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) commanded by Khartoum.

The SAF’s seizure of Abyei, sparked international condemnation and raised fears the military action would provoke return to war between north and South Sudan. According to the UN tens of thousands have fled south to escape the fighting.

In an interview with Sudan Tribune on Thursday from an area around Agok, south of Abyei town, Kuol said that he believed nearly 100 people had died in the violence.

“A lot of people have been killed. We are waiting for final information with names from individual family members and clans, but death toll is currently close to 100,” said Kuol in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Thursday from an area around Agok.

Majiith Yak, a former minister of local government in the Abyei administration associated to Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), told Sudan Tribune last week in Khartoum that 68 dead bodies were found following a quick search conducted by the SAF two days after taking over the town.

Large numbers of women, children and the elderly have gone missing while escaping the violence, according to eyewitnesses and South Sudan’s governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLA).

The United Nations says it has no details about the number of casualties incurred since the fighting began on 19 May, but said it observed the presence of no local residents of Abyei. The only visible presence on the ground is the SAF elements the armed groups from the Misseriya tribe.

“No presence of local Abyei residents has been observed and the only visible presence on the ground is SAF and Misseriya militias and tribesmen. We have no details about the number of casualties incurred since fighting started on 19th May. There has been extensive looting and burning of shops, tukuls and properties by Misseriya militias. The overall security situation in the area of Abyei is still volatile and tense,” reads part of the statement by the United Nations extended to Sudan Tribune on Thursday.

The release further stated that UNMIS has continued its land and air patrolling since Thursday (26/05) and intends to upgrade it in Abyei town and its surroundings, and that it has reinforced its presence in Abyei with 150 Force Reserve Battalion troops from Kadugli, bringing the total number of companies in the town to six. An additional infantry company has also been deployed from Wau to Agok, where many civilians have fled to.

The United Nations says that it is deeply concerned about the plight of the tens of thousands of civilians who have fled Abyei the release says:

“The first phase of the humanitarian operation in the south is underway, focused on identifying the location of the displaced and responding to their emergency needs. Confirming the number of the displaced civilians remains a challenge, as people are still on the move or in the bush.

It is estimated that at least 60,000 IDPs from Abyei Area have reached Southern Sudan, of which 22,000 have been registered by IOM in Twic County in Warrap State with smaller numbers in Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity states.”

The military takeover has drawn international attention with the US and the Security Council of the United Nations calling for the immediate withdrawal of the Sudan Armed Forces. However, the Khartoum-based NCP government swiftly appointed a commanding officer of the SAF, as head of the interim administration after Kuol’s Abyei administration was disolved.

On Tuesday Khartoum proposed a compromise, allowing for a rotating administration and allowing the southern army (SPLA) to move as far north as the Bahr al-Arab River, while the SAF would remain north of the river – known as the River Kiir by southern Sudanese.

South Sudan’s ruling SPLM on Thursday rejected the proposal which stated that the South could occupy areas south of the Kiir river on the condition that they did not particpate in any “administrative tasks until a final solution is reached through a referendum”.

Under the north’s proposals, Abyei’s administration would be transferred to a joint north-south committee on July 8, the day before the south is scheduled to secede.

South Sudan voted to secede from the north in a referendum earlier this year, which was a key plank of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the SPLM and the NCP in Khartoum.

Abyei was accorded a separate referendum on whether the region would remain in north Sudan or join the South. However, a dispute over whether the Arab nomadic Misseriya tribe – who enter Abyei to graze their cattle for a few months of the year – should be allowed to vote has meant the plebsicte has been all but shelved.

Juac Agok, a senior SPLM official on Thursday, described Khartoum’s proposal, of a rotating administation until a referendum could be held, as “rubbish” and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Sudan Armed Forces from the area.

“With whom is the Khartoum government proposing shared administration,” asked Agok, stressing that people of Abyei will not accept anything short implementation of the Abyei protocol of the CPA.

The South says that the Dinka Ngok tribe are the residents of the Abyei and that only they and other permanent residents should be allowed to take part in any referendum on Abyei’s future.

Agok also called for Khartoum to accept the 2008 ruling of the Permanent Court Arbitration in Hague. Both sides initially agreed to accept the ruling but it has not been implemented.

“What the government in Khartoum has done is a clear violation of terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the face of the international community. They have killed a lot of people and displaced once again several others. Majority of our people are now in living open areas under trees. Majority are in Twic County, Warrap State and some have gone to Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal States,” explained Agok.

Gabriel Riing, a former Abyei Youth Association chairperson told Sudan Tribune in Juba that he rejected Khartoum’s proposal to share Abyei’s administration. He said that the international community must provide swift military intervention to expel what he described as invading forces from the area.

“All these proposals are nonsense. The international community should not waste time and resources to discuss this proposal,” he said.

Kiir Majak, a member of the executive committee of the Abyei Association, also called on the international community to consider military intervention to remove the Sudan Armed Forces out of Abyei as the occupation of Abyei by the northern army is a violation of the CPA.

“The government in Khartoum will never accept its forces to withdraw from the area. This was the plan of the National Congress Party to invade the area. So, I believe they will not accept Sudan Armed Forces withdraw, instead they will continue to deploy more in order to settle Misseriya in the area. The only best option is international military intervention to remove them. They needs to be expulsed,” Majak said.


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