Thousands of people have fled Abyei town after two days of clashes between Sudanese government troops and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).
"There was fighting in the evening yesterday," SPLA spokesman Maj Gen Peter Parnyang told IRIN on 15 May. "Fighting is still continuing up to today."
A meeting between leaders of the mainly Arab Misseriya and largely African Dinka communities – the main residents of the disputed oil-rich region – would resolve the crisis, Parnyang said.
Other sources said a ceasefire had been agreed, but sporadic shooting continued. Abyei remained tense as a result.
Aid workers in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, said Abyei town was largely deserted after an estimated 25,000 people fled. More people were leaving.
The clashes started on 14 May, according to Edward Lino, the SPLM-appointed governor of the region that lies between North and South Sudan. Three people, he told the UN Radio Miraya, were killed.
UN spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters in New York that the UN Mission in Sudan had decided to pull out most of its civilian international and national staff because of the safety and security conditions in Abyei town.
Photo: Derk Segaar/IRIN
|A bus carrying returnees from Khartoum to Abyei|
The mission was established to help implement the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended more than two decades of war between Southern and Northern Sudan. Despite the agreement, however, mutual suspicion has remained between the two entities.
The oil-rich Abyei region has emerged as one of the stumbling blocks to the implementation of the CPA, according to analysts. Despite both sides signing the Abyei protocol, disagreements over its status have left the region with an administrative and political vacuum.
SPLM leaders claim the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has ignored its proposals over Abyei because of oil revenues - estimated at US$529 million in 2007. The government in Khartoum denies the claims.
The Northern government has taken issue with the appointment of an administration for the disputed region by the SPLM, arguing that under the provisions of the CPA, it should have first approved the appointment.
The SPLM, however, says it acted to ensure locals in the region received humanitarian assistance. Governor Lino’s job, it says, is to organise the people of Abyei politically and socially, coordinate the humanitarian work of the UN and NGOs and prepare the ground for full implementation of the Abyei protocol.
On 15 May, Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, speaking at the opening of the second national SPLM convention in Juba, said his government was working to resolve the Abyei questions.
Photo: Derk Segaar/IRIN
|Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit says his government is working to resolve the Abyei question|
"The Abyei protocol is the only protocol of the CPA that is not implemented, in spite of the fact that it is one of the clearest components of the CPA and lack of its implementation will question the genuineness of ... our partner to put this problem behind us," he told more than 2,000 SPLM delegates.
"The report of Abyei Boundaries Commission is not only final and binding but all independent legal opinions confirmed this simple and straightforward fact," he added. "Although we are still engaged with the National Congress Party to find amicable means of implementing the Abyei Protocol, we should not deprive the people of Abyei from enjoying the fruits of peace and that is why I appointed Comrade Edward Lino."
Later that month, 70 people were killed in Al-Mayram township, following which the two sides traded accusations. Another 75 people were killed in violent skirmishes in December 2007 and January 2008. In March, clashes between the SPLA and Misseriya fighters again displaced hundreds of civilians from their homes and raised tension across Abyei.
“This latest development in Abyei, whose complex problems represent one of the most difficult challenges facing the successful implementation of the [CPA] in Sudan, underscores the importance of fully implementing the Abyei protocol,” Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sudan, warned in a statement on 16 May.