Nearly a week after the Sudanese army forcibly took over the disputed border area of Abyei in a strategic aerial and ground campaign backed by militias, the Sudanese government remains intransigent, responding to international condemnation and calls to withdraw from the region with avowals to remain in Abyei and even to retaliate. Though South Sudan President Salva Kiir announced today that the South will not be provoked into going to war, the situation remains dire, with little humanitarian access to those newly displaced and limited independent monitoring of what is taking place on the ground in Abyei itself.
The conflagration in Abyei has prompted tens of thousands of civilians to flee, leaving the region largely vacated of its Dinka Ngok civilians and prompting fears of what southern Sudanese officials allege is Khartoum’s plan to resettle Misseriya in the region. An internal U.N. document seen by Enough reports that U.N. observers estimate that there are 2,000 to 5,000 armed Misseriya currently in Abyei town. U.N. air patrols over northern Abyei did not show an unusual spike in the number of civilians, the document said. The Abyei region is recognized as the homeland of the Dinka Ngok, who want to see the region administered by the South, but Misseriya—many aligned with the North—claim the land as well.
Throughout the week, armed Misseriya, Popular Defense Forces, or PDF, and northern soldiers ransacked and burned Abyei town, despite international obligations the Sudanese army has to prevent criminal activities and ensure the protection of civilians and their properties. Humanitarian agencies in Abyei town, including Doctors Without Borders and World Food Program, were also looted. Photos taken in Abyei town show armed militias carrying loot on foot and by pickup truck under the watch of the Sudanese army. By Thursday morning, a number of trucks filled with loot were seen waiting to be transported north, according to a U.N. document.
Northern forces have pushed far south in Abyei and has reportedly taken over a key bridge that connects Abyei to South Sudan. According to an internal U.N. document obtained by Enough, a large number of pick-up trucks outfitted with machine guns carrying northern soldiers and large groups of Misseriya and PDF were seen moving toward the southern border earlier in the week.
The latest displacement figure cited by the U.N. was 40,000. Some fleeing the violence arrived in towns hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, after days of walking, according to reporting by the AP in the town of Mayen Abom. Civilians are also fleeing from towns south of the Abyei region, fearing violence may spread further. Humanitarian response has been hampered by insecurity and heavy rainfall, with U.N. agencies unable to assess how many of the estimated 110,000 residents of Abyei are displaced, where they are, and their needs, according to OCHA.
So far, the international diplomatic response has been lackluster. A series of warnings and condemnations have been issued by the U.S. and U.N. as well as a number of other states in response to the Sudanese government’s aggressions, but little public reference has been made to specific actions and consequences that the international community will bring to bear on Khartoum to pull the situation back from the brink.
Sign this petition, put out by the Enough Project in conjunction with our Sudan Now partners, petition calling on the Obama administration to move beyond rhetoric and urgently work to create and impose the consequences necessary to help diffuse the crisis in Abyei.