Last month, southern Sudanese went to the polls to overwhelmingly vote for independence from the rest of Sudan. The peaceful referendum was the result of a peace deal that ended 22 years of North-South civil war in which two million people died. Scenes of jubilation erupted across southern Sudan as voters lined up for hours to cast their votes for separation.
But while the region celebrated the peaceful birth of a nation, one area straddling the North-South border remained tense. During, and in the weeks following, the referendum, the disputed region of Abyei saw brutal attacks on convoys of southerners returning to their homeland. Southern returnees from two different convoys that were attacked told Enough that the perpetrators were Misseriya militias.
Abyei was supposed to have its own referendum on whether to join the South or remain with the North. But that vote was put off indefinitely and the region’s status continues to be a major issue of contention between North and South.
Veteran multimedia journalist Tim Freccia spent time in Abyei during and after the referendum documenting the experiences of returnees who came under attack. Freccia, working exclusively for Enough and Not On Our Watch, sent this video dispatch.
Abyei town remains tense, Freccia reports. The town, which was razed in an attack in 2008, is now under blockade from the North and cut off by Misseriya militias. Food, fuel and other supplies are running scarce.
Returnees who have braved the perilous journey and reached the relative safety of Abyei town spoke of terrifying attacks under a hail of bullets, as well as rapes and looting. One woman was slaughtered in front of 32 busloads of people.
“[The Misseriya] don’t want this area to be annexed to the South,” said Kuol Deng Kuol, the Paramount Chief of Abyei. “This is why they want to drive away the people from the land.”
With the referendum behind them, northern and southern politicians together with the help of the international community, must work hard to solve the question of Abyei. On July 9, Southern Sudan will officially declare independence. If a solution for Abyei is not found in the next five months, there might be much more bloodshed.