Fighting could hamper Abyei aid operation – UN

Renewed hostilities between the Sudanese army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Abyei are likely to worsen the humanitarian needs in the region and could affect aid operations, the UN warned.

"Aid workers have reported aerial [Antonov] bombing of a position 4km north of one of the [humanitarian operation] hubs," Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Sudan, said. "Continued insecurity is a concern, as are weather conditions and muddy roads."

Clashes resumed in Abyei on 20 May, barely a week after fighting had displaced thousands of people from their homes. About 100 people were injured, according to aid workers in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan.

The fighting, which broke out despite a joint military committee meeting attended by the UN, the Sudanese army and the SPLM agreeing to ease tensions, appeared to have been a counter-attack by the SPLM, according to independent observers.

The Sudanese army in a statement said a number of its soldiers died in the attack. The SPLM, on the other hand, blamed the army for targeting civilians.

"The escalation of fighting and reported bombings will further exacerbate the humanitarian needs of the already affected population, including the displaced, and could hamper the continuation of the humanitarian operation, which is being established in Agok," Qazi warned.

Hubs

Five humanitarian hubs were set up by the UN after last week’s clashes to assist an estimated 30,000-50,000 displaced people living in 18 host villages in Agok area, 25km south of Abyei town.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the fighting sent the largely Dinka Malual and Dinka Ngok residents of Abyei town fleeing southwards, with the majority arriving in Twic County in Warrab State and Agok.


Photo: Tim McKulka/UNMIS
Renewed fighting in Abyei has led to the displacement of thousands of people, with aid workers saying the violence could hamper aid operations

Further displacement into Aweil East in Northern Bahr el Ghazal was reported on 19 May, while movement into Mayom and Abiemnom in Unity State was expected, OCHA said on 20 May.

After the hubs were set up, various aid organisations started distributing food to the displaced and set up water facilities. They were also delivering shelter materials and establishing health facilities.

"UNMIS [the UN Mission in Sudan] has been in contact with both parties in an effort to arrest further deterioration of the situation, which if not checked could undermine the entire peace process," Qazi said in his statement. "The recent round of armed hostilities underscores the urgent need for the political leadership of both sides to intensify their joint efforts to address the issues that underlie the current crisis."

The earlier fighting, which started on 13 May, destroyed much of Abyei town, sources said. "The town, most of whose houses are [made of] straw, was burnt," Bishop Antonio Menegazzo of El Obeid told the Catholic news service.

"According to a witness, about 90 percent of the huts have been destroyed. All the inhabitants ran away from the town, taking refuge in the nearby forest."

Impasse

An impasse over the status of oil-rich Abyei - whether it will be administered by the national unity government or that of Southern Sudan (GoSS) - is one of the major stumbling blocks to the implementation of the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the long-running north-south civil war in Sudan.

Clashes broke out in Abyei in December 2007 after the GoSS appointed an administrator for the region - a move rejected by local, pro-Northern Masseriya tribesmen, who in reaction formed a group called the Abyei Liberation Front.

''The escalation of fighting and reported bombings will further exacerbate the humanitarian needs''

In recent months, clashes between armed groups in the region have left scores dead. Analysts worry that such clashes could lead to a full resumption of conflict between Southern Sudan and the North.

"Abyei is the 'line in the sand' on which neither Khartoum nor Juba is willing to compromise," the Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment research project said in a paper on 11 May.

The project, which is administered by the Small Arms Survey, warned: "Proxy fighting was the hallmark of the civil war, and its recent escalation in the post-CPA period is a bad omen, not only for the long-term implementation of the CPA but also for the security of communities across Sudan."

The report noted that the SPLM had won over many of the Misseriya tribesmen, prompting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to remobilise paramilitary forces that had fought alongside the North during the civil war.

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