Clashes in the border region of Abyei between local police and militia have left dozens dead. The fighting has blighted what has been an otherwise peaceful vote in southern Sudan.
Leading members of Abyei’s Dinka Ngoc tribe, linked with the south, accuse Khartoum of arming the area’s Arab Misseriya militias ahead of clashes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and say they are expecting more attacks in the days to come.
Reporter Alan Boswell, who is based in Juba and recently visited Abyei, provides this explanation of the situation in Abyei:
“It seems that on Friday there started a wave of attacks from what is called a Misseriya militia, which according to southern officials is backed by northern PDF (Popular Defence Force) forces, some with uniforms. Although that can’t be confirmed by the U.N. or anyone else."
"It seems like these attacks are targeting southern police posts which have formed a ring of security around Abyei town to protect it from something like this. It’s unclear what their aim is, but one U.N. official speculated that it looks like they might be trying to break through to Abyei town."
"The official described the attacks as highly organized. It seems like they’ll come sometimes in just a small group but they have constant reinforcements behind them."
“It’s still all a bit shrouded in a bit of fog of war right now. But I did hear from one UN guy that it seems like we’re talking about a force at least in the hundreds. Initially they thought it was much smaller, but now their sense is that this is well-organized with constant reinforcements and that the larger force is probably in the hundreds."
"As far as military equipment, the SPLA [southern army] is saying that they’re coming with machine guns, with even some artillery; they’re coming with trucks mounted with guns on top of them. These seem to be very well-armed forces, which seems to be part of the suspicion that this is not the Misseriya acting on their own."
"The southern side says it’s the police which are being attacked, but it’s widely suspected that these police are actually SPLA who’ve been trained for this. Of course neither side is supposed to have their own military in Abyei due to the CPA ceasefire protocols.”
According to Boswell, officials are saying that they are not surprised by the fighting, and that their goal is to contain the violence so it doesn’t spill over and affect the southern referendum.
The oil-rich Abyei region lies on the border between north and south Sudan. According to the terms of the CPA, Abyei was supposed to vote in its own referendum this week, deciding whether to join the north or south. The ballot was postponed indefinitely due to a dispute over whether the Misseriya should be allowed to vote.