The human security situation in the Abyei region of Sudan has rapidly deteriorated in the past week due to renewed violence. Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has confirmed through the analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery that buildings consistent with civilian infrastructure appear to have been intentionally burned Maker Abior and Todach villages. Some 100 people in the Abyei region have reportedly died in the clashes to date. According to the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), tens of thousands of civilians have either been displaced by fighting or fled due to fear of further attacks.
Fighting reportedly broke out on Sunday, February 27 between armed Misseriya and a southern police unit in the village of Todach, purportedly sparked by a dispute over the rights of Misseriya to graze their cattle in the area. Evidence of the attack at Todach has been documented by SSP monitoring of the location. Conflicting reports allege that over the next four days, elements of Misseriya militias and/or Popular Defense Forces (PDF) staged attacks on multiple villages, including Todach, Noong, Wungok and Maker Abior. These communities are all within the Abyei region as defined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2009 ruling.
The events of the past week contravene security arrangements established by Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and National Congress Party (NCP) officials at Kadugli on January 17, 2011, which stipulated the removal of southern police units from the area in the wake of fighting between Misseriya militias and southern police in early January. Misseriya leaders and northern officials have alleged that the local police in the Abyei region are aligned with the Government of South Sudan and include SPLA elements. As mandated by the Kadugli Agreement, two additional Joint Integrated Unit (JIU) battalions were deployed to replace police units in Abyei; however, multiple accounts confirm the failure of the JIUs to intervene and quell the recent violence in the Abyei region.
The recent violence in the Abyei region has occurred in the context of apparent increases observed by SSP in the military capacity of both the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in regions along the contested border line. The recent violence in Abyei, coupled with the continuing militarization occurring on both sides of the border, has made an already volatile human security environment even more precarious.