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Sudan’s Abyei ‘Ablaze’ After Capture by North

DOHA, Qatar, May 23 2011 - Sudan’s disputed border town of Abyei is ablaze, with gunmen looting properties days after troops from the government in Khartoum entered the area, U.N. peacekeepers say.

The peacekeepers belonging to UNMIS, the U.N. mission in Sudan, said on Monday that the burning and looting was perpetrated “by armed elements” but it was not clear whether they were from the north or the south.

“UNMIS strongly condemns the burning and looting currently being perpetrated by armed elements in Abyei town,” the peacekeepers said in a statement.

“The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) are responsible for maintaining law and order in the areas they control.

“UNMIS calls upon the government of Sudan to urgently ensure that the Sudan Armed Forces fulfil their responsibility and intervene to stop these criminal acts.”

Sudanese government officials in the north say their troops moved into Abyei – inhabited by two tribes backed by the south and north respectively – to drive the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) out, who they said had been occupying Abyei since last December.


The SPLA is the armed force of South Sudan, which held a referendum for independence in January and is due to become an independent state in July.

Thousands of civilians are reported to have fled southwards after northern SAF troops and tanks took control of the town on Saturday.

South Sudan also claims Abyei district, which has special status under a 2005 peace deal that ended 22 years of south-north civil war, and has called the occupation “illegal”.

‘War zone’

Barnaba Benjamin, the minister of information in South Sudan, told Al Jazeera that north Sudanese troops had “illegally and unconstitutionally invaded Abyei”.

“What the Sudanese forces are doing now [is] they are looting the place; they are burning the place,” he said.

“They have made thousands of people – children, women and the elderly – a humanitarian disaster. This is what they have been doing. They didn’t find any SPLA troops in Abyei.

“Their claim that there are SPLA troops in Abyei is not true … They entered the town without any confrontation … So why are they there?

“Why are they bombing the civilian targets; the villages around? They are airlifting Misseriya Arab tribes into the territory to occupy the areas of Dinka Ng’ok.”

The nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe, which is backed by the north, grazes its cattle in Abyei. The Dinka Ng’ok tribe, backed by the south, lives in Abyei year round.

A senior official from the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum, the capital of the north, denied the reports of looting but called Abyei “a war zone”.

“They [troops] are not looting the place,” Didiry Mohammad Ahmed told Al Jazeera.

“We know that this place, right now, is a war zone. The army is struggling very hard to see to it that no looting happens, but nonetheless some isolated incidents had happened.

“We are doing our very best right now – working in tandem with the U.N. mission in the region – to ensure no looting takes place. Nothing can be traced back to our forces.”

U.N. call

Abyei’s seizure, coming in the run-up to international recognition of southern independence in July, has been condemned by world powers as a threat to peace between north and south.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., called the escalation of the situation in Abyei “quite dangerous” as she visited the country with U.N. and British envoys.

Tanks from northern Sudan rolled into the town of Abyei on Saturday night, scattering southern troops that were there as part of a joint security unit.

Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, called for an immediate end to military action after a U.N. compound was also hit with mortar fire.

The seizure of Abyei followed an attack on a convoy of northern soldiers by southern forces on Thursday and two days of aerial bombardment of the area by the north.

*Published under an agreement with Al-Jazeera.

 
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