Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sudan News Update: Heavy Fighting Erupts in Sudan Oil Town of Abyei

Heavy fighting erupts in Sudan oil town

By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Heavy fighting erupted between Sudan's army and southern Sudanese forces in the disputed oil-rich town of Abyei on Tuesday, leaving at least 100 wounded and an unknown number dead, aid workers said.

A spokesman for Sudan's Armed Forces told state media a number of northern soldiers had died in the attack, and accused southern troops of starting the assault, using tanks, rocket-propelled grenades and artillery.

Analysts said the fierce fighting in Abyei -- an area claimed by both Khartoum and the semi-autonomous south -- threatened a north-south peace deal and risked reigniting a two-decade civil war.

The United Nations said the fighting had practically destroyed the central Sudanese town and disrupted emergency efforts to supply food, water and medical care to up to 50,000 people who fled earlier fighting.

Abyei's status was left undecided in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan. Both sides have remained at loggerheads over the lucrative region's exact border and government.

Growing tensions in the region were underlined last week when a local dispute exploded into armed clashes between the northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

A spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York that Ban was deeply concerned and warned the SAF and SPLA that the achievements of the 2005 accord could be at serious risk if fighting continued.


Aid workers said a lull in the fighting ended at around 4 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Tuesday when SPLA troops attacked the town. Sporadic shooting continued into the afternoon, an international source added.

"The fighting was heavy," said one aid worker, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It was between SAF and the SPLA. We think it was a counter-attack by the SPLA."

The worker said SAF had occupied Abyei at the weekend but SPLA forces had attacked to try to push government troops back.

Ashraf Qazi, special representative of the U.N. Secretary General for Sudan, said he had contacted northern and southern leaders, urging them to halt the clashes. He said the fighting had already caused "numerous casualties."

Humanitarian efforts were already being affected, he said, adding aid workers had seen Antonov aircraft bombing a position just 4 km away from one of their aid bases in the area.

The U.N. Mission in Sudan, which has evacuated many of its staff from the area, said it had started distributing food supplies to up to 50,000 people who had fled earlier fighting.

"People are still fleeing. This fighting could have a dire impact on the entire humanitarian operation," said Orla Clinton, spokeswoman for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"We have been told that there are at least 100 people injured on the ground," said one aid worker who had received updates from staff at an aid centre near Abyei.

Armed forces spokesman Brigadier Uthman al-Agbash told the Suna state news agency a number of army soldiers had been killed in the fighting. He said the SPLA had used heavy artillery in the attack, as well as tanks and rocket-propelled grenades.

Andrew Stroehlein, spokesman for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank, called on EU foreign ministers, due to meet in Brussels on Monday, to urge both sides to stop fighting and pull back to the ceasefire line.

"Otherwise this really could be the restarting of the civil war in Sudan," he told a news briefing. "The entire town has been torched to the ground basically."

Many senior members of the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement were at a party conference in the southern capital of Juba on Tuesday and were unavailable for comment.

Sudan dominant party denounces SPLA attack in Abyei

May 20, 2008 (KHARTOUM) — The National Congress Party (NCP) denounced attack by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army against the Sudan Armed Forces in the disputed Abyei today morning saying it was a clear violation of the security arrangements protocol included in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Deadly fighting erupted on Tuesday when the SPLA troops attacked at dawn the positions of the SAF infantry Brigade 31 in Abyei in a bid to take the control of the town. The northern Sudanese army said it had soldiers killed and wounded in the assault but that it repulsed the attack.

Al-Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed, a leading member of the National Congress Party and one of Sudanese government negotiators in Naivasha talks said that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, by taking the control of the area, had transgressed the CPA.

"There are clear texts in the CPA about security measures that should be taken in this region during the transitional period, and imposing an administrator is not among them." he said.

Mohamed Ahmed further reiterated the NCP’s commitment to all the provisions of the 2005 signed peace deal and urged the southern Sudan ruling party to end its aggression and listen to the voice of reason.

"We in the NCP, as we confirm our full commitment to the CPA, warn that the current situation in the region caused by SPLM’s actions may be detrimental to all the efforts made towards bringing peace and stability to the area and towards the implementation of the CPA, especially the Abyei Protocol."

The oil-rich area of Abyei, which is near the border between north and south Sudan, has been one of the main stumbling blocks to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

In accordance with the CPA, a SAF-SPLA battalion has to be formed in the town of Abyei assigned to protect the area. But the SPLA redeployed 3000 force withdrawn from the Eastern Sudan in Akec and Majock around Abyei, this move pushed SAF to maintain the Infantry Brigade 31 in the area.

In a statement issued on May 18 the northern Sudanese army accused the SPLM representative in Abyei, Edward Lino of saying he would not implement a deal brokered by the UN last week end where it is agreed to redeploy SPLA force out of Abyei.

According to the UN sponsored deal, the SPLA troops should be pulled out to their previous position south of the river, while the SAF troops have to remain confined to their barracks inside Abyei and they should not be deployed outside the camps of the infantry Brigade 31.

SAF spokesman Brig Osman Mohamed al-Aghbash, who described today attack as” unprecedented development”, has said the residents of Abyei town had been evacuated as a result of the attack by the SPLA, Sudan People’s Liberation Army, on 18 May.

Al-Aghbash said that "the 31 Infantry Brigade of the armed forces was deployed north of the 1956 border line, and SPLA’s presence in the area, instead of consigning themselves to the assembly areas defined in the agreement, was a blatant violation".

He added that Sudan People’s Liberation Movement had "unilaterally set up an administration and a police force in Abyei, which was also in clear breach of the peace Agreement which had led to the friction which resulted in the recent problems".

Abyei lies just north of the disputed boundary line between north and south Sudan and remains contested despite a 2005 peace accord that ended a 21-year civil war, which left an estimated 2 million people dead.

The U.N. says between 30,000 and 50,000 people have been displaced by the recent fighting. The casualty count is difficult to determine because of the ongoing violence.

Egypt calls for self-restraint in Abyei, end of violence in Sudan

CAIRO, May 20 (Xinhua) -- Egypt on Tuesday urged the two peace partners in Sudan to exercise self-restraint and bring an end to the violence in Abyei area in southern Sudan.

In a press release by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit noted that his country has expressed apprehension over recent armed confrontations between Sudanese government forces and Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) operatives in Abyei.

"The only way out of the current crisis is resorting to dialogue in a bid to reach compromise solutions," Abul Gheit was quoted as saying in the statement.

The UN announced Sunday that it was gearing up efforts to meet the pressing humanitarian needs of thousands of Sudanese who were forced to flee their homes in Abyei area in southern Sudan after fighting flared up there over the past few days.

The exact number of those displaced from Abyei, an enclave claimed by both of northern and southern Sudan, is not yet determined but is estimated at between 30,000 to 50,000 people.

Sudan ruling, opposition parties sign reconciliatory deal

KHARTOUM, May 20 (KUNA) -- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, leader of the ruling National Congress, and opposition Ummah Party leader al-Sadeq al-Mahdi reached a reconciliation agreement here Tuesday.

The deal will pave the way for holding a mass conference involving all Sudanese political forces in a bid to create an all-out national reconciliation.

Under the deal, both leaders vowed to work together to reach an agreement with all political forces and to create a national front involving all rivals.

Following the signing at al-Mahdi's residence in Omdurman, al-Bashir affirmed his party commitment to the provisions of the deal, which he hailed as a springboard for unifying Sudanese ranks.

For his part, al-Mahdi said, "With open hearts, we want to press for building national reconciliation with our brothers in the National Congress and other political forces." He hailed the deal as a tool to resolve disagreements by peaceful means.

It is the ever-second agreement between both parties. The first was inked in Djibouti on November 25, 1999, which put an end to al-Mahdi-led party's armed opposition to al-Bashir-led government.

UN 'Gravely Concerned' At Renewed Fighting in Disputed Town

UN News Service (New York)
20 May 2008

The top United Nations envoy in Sudan today expressed grave concern over renewed hostilities which have forced up to 50,000 people to flee fighting in the disputed town of Abyei, which lies in an oil-rich area near the boundary between north and south Sudan.

Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Sudan, expressed "his deep regret" that fighting had resumed early this morning so soon after Government and the former southern rebels had struck an agreement to end the clashes in Abyei, under the auspices of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

An impasse over the boundaries and status of Abyei has been one of the major stumbling blocks preventing the full implementation of the January 2005 comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) that ended the long-running north-south civil war in Sudan.

Fighting in Abyei has displaced between 30,000 to 50,000 people southwards, leaving the town almost deserted.

The UN has set up five humanitarian hubs to help the displaced population, but operations are being endangered by continuing insecurity. Aid workers reported aerial bombing of a position to the north of one of the hubs.

Mr. Qazi has appealed to both sides to exercise the utmost restraint and to take immediate steps towards disengaging their forces. The UN envoy said this would enable UNMIS to revive ceasefire monitoring mechanisms and pave the way for full implementation of the CPA with respect to Abyei.

Khartoum reiterates refusal of Chad's interference in Sudan's affairs

KHARTOUM, May 19 (Xinhua) -- The Sudanese government reiterated on Monday its refusal of interference by the neighboring Chad in Sudan's internal affairs.

This came after Chairperson of the African Union (AU)Commission Jean Ping and AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramadan Al Amamrah concluded a three-day visit to Sudan, which was the first for the two persons since they assumed their officeslast April.

Ping and Al Amamrah arrived in Khartoum coming from N'Djamena where they presented to the Chadian side an initiative from the AU to mediate for solving differences between Sudan and Chad.

In a statement, the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the visit came in the context of the efforts being exerted by the AU for solving the Darfur problem and bridging the rift between Sudan and Chad, especially after an aborted attack by Darfurrebels on the Sudanese capital.

The statement said the AU officials held meetings with Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir, Presidential Assistant Nafie Ali Nafie, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs al-Samani al-Wasila as wellas other officials.

They also visited Juba, southern Sudan, where they held talks with Sudanese First Vice President and President of the southern Sudanese government Salva Kiir Mayardit.

The AU officials also visited El Fashir, the capital of North Darfur State, where the met the governor of the state, Osman Mohamed Yousif Kibir and members of the state government. During the meetings, the Sudanese officials expressed their appreciation to the great role being assumed by the AU in solving the issues of Sudan, the Sudanese foreign ministry said in the statement, adding that the government would continuously support the AU's role in terms that all African issues should be solved by the Africans themselves.

"Concerning Chad, it was affirmed that Sudan had been the keenest on good relations with Chad and responded to the mechanisms established to improve the relations between the two countries, while the Chadian regime failed to implement them," the statement noted.

"Sudan will remain keen on good neighborliness relations will all its neighbors, but it will not allow intervention in its internal affairs and repetition of any threat and that Sudan will work to abort any attempt for committing aggression against any part of its territories," the statement added.

An escalation of tension has been witnessed in the relations between the two African countries since the Sudanese government thwarted an assault by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement on the capital Khartoum on May 10.

Sudanese President al-Bashir accused the Chadian government of involving in the attack, announcing a severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The Chadian government has denied any involvement in the attack.

SUDAN: Fighting could hamper Abyei aid operation – UN

The latest fighting appeared to have been a counter-attack by the SPLM, according to independent observers

NAIROBI, 21 May 2008 (IRIN) - 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.


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.

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."


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.

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.

Report can be found online at:

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