May 21, 2011 (WASHINGTON) – The United States on Saturday rebuked the Sudanese government over its army’s move on the disputed border region of Abyei which elevated fears of a full-scale war between the North and South.
Sudan state TV quoted an unidentified military source as saying that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) managed to take over Abyei and inflicted heavy losses on the “enemy”.
“The SAF reached the town of Abyei by sunset and tightened control over it and drove enemy forces to the South,” the source said.
Prior to that the Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir issued two simultaneous decrees dissolving the Abyei’s administrative council and firing its head, his VP and the directors of the five departments within the body.
The United States deplored today’s moves saying that it “condemns the offensive operations being undertaken by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in and around Abyei town and today’s presidential decree dissolving the Abyei Administration”.
A White House statement called on SAF “to immediately cease all offensive operations in Abyei and withdraw its forces from Abyei.”
“Failure to do so could set back the process of normalizing relations between Sudan and the United States and inhibit the international community’s ability to move forward on issues critical to Sudan’s future. The actions being taken by the government of Sudan are blatant violations of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and threaten to undermine the mutual commitment of the CPA parties to avoid a return to war “.
Today’s escalation comes on the heels of an attack that took place near Abyei on Thursday which targeted an SAF convoy that was pulling out of the area with an escort from the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
The Sudanese government said that 22 SAF soldiers were killed and scores were still missing in the attack that they blamed on the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA). UNMIS condemned the assault but declined to point finger at the party behind the attack.
SAF has said at the time that it reserves the right to respond “in the right time and place”.
Abyei was scheduled to hold a referendum last January on whether to be part of the North or an independent South but it was put on hold after both sides failed to agree on who would be eligible to vote.
The SPLA confirmed an SAF offensive on the contested region since Friday.
“The Sudan Armed Forces attacked four villages on Friday and it again attacked five other villages on Saturday, today. These attacks have claimed lives of local innocent civilians. Some of them were bombed. Others were killed in the cross fire staged by advancing ground forces of the Sudan Armed forces”, said SPLA spokesperson Colonel Phillip Aguer Panyang.
Ngor Aguot, a Sudan Tribune reporter in Abyei said he saw warplanes dropping bombs at four different locations in the region on Friday and Saturday.
The acting head of the SPLM in Abyei, Juac Agok said the aircrafts were military assets of the SAF.
“It is the Sudanese government in Khartoum and its armed forces which owns war planes it uses to bomb her citizens. They have resumed air attack today in Abyei in five other different villages. They bombed Mabok, they bombed Alal, and they again bombed Todac which they bombed yesterday”, explained Agok.
Marial Benjamin Bil, minister of information in the of government of South Sudan (GoSS), said in a telephone interview with Sudan Tribune on Saturday from Juba that he received reports from Abyei that SAF have once again bombed the area today.
“There are reports from Abyei that the Sudan Armed Forces have once again bombed the area today. They have bombed five other different villages today. A village called Alal, Mabok and Todach which they bombed yesterday were again bombed”, said Bil.
The minister said the Sudan Armed Forces used long range artilleries for launching attacks and used other heavy weapons and tanks in the ground attacks.
He also slammed Bashir’s decrees saying it violated the CPA and was not made in consultation with GoSS chief Salva Kiir.
UNMIS leadership decided to raise security levels in Abyei to a red.
The new security level restricts movement of its staff members outside the camp. It requires them to stay either inside their offices, accommodation or any area identified as safe.
“In the view of prevailing security situation, the alert state is elevated to red. All movement outside UNMIS camp is restricted until further notice. All the staff members are advised to stay either inside their offices, accommodation, or safe area and avoid roaming about. Should the siren be sounded all staff must immediately proceed to the bunkers”, reads part of the UNMIS statement extended to Sudan Tribune.
Sudan Tribune reporter said that SAF entered Abyei around 8 pm and said he was locked in a UN compound surrounded by 15 tanks.
“We are in a state of captivity respecting orders and any other instructions so many of us did not eat. There is no food. We do not move and do not receive or makes phone calls. Our fate is at the mercy of the Sudan Armed Forces with whom United Nations is negotiating” he said via email.
The North and South are supposed to have withdrawn all of their forces from Abyei by this week except for a special joint force made up of units from both sides in accordance with an agreement they signed earlier this year.
A visiting United Nations Security Council (UNSC) delegation has also reportedly cancelled a planned visit to Abyei as a result of the ongoing clashes. However, a meeting was arranged between the council members and representatives of the Misseriya’s and the Dinka Ngok tribes who are the main residents of Abyei.