The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) said Monday that unidentified gunmen opened fire on one of its planes last week as if came in to land at Kadugli airport in Southern Kordofan in Sudan.
None of the 96 UNISFA troops or four crewmembers on board the plane were hurt in the attack, UNISFA spokesman Daniel Adekera said.
UNISFA has opened an investigation to try to determine who was behind the attack, Adekera said. Kadugli airport is in an area in Southern Kordofan that "...has been experiencing some fighting between the Sudanese Arm Forces and SPLM-North" rebel group, he said.
"They are the groups that are operating within this area but we cannot, at this point, say who is responsible for this,” Adekera said.
Fighting erupted in the Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan in 2011, the year South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to break free of Khartoum's rule and become an independent country. Communities in Southern Kordofan were aligned with the southern rebels during Sudan’s 22-year civil war, which ended with the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in 2005.
Earlier this month a World Food Program aircraft was forced to land in an area controlled by SPLM-North rebels, but was later released.
Violation of international law
Adekera said that whoever shot at the UNISFA plane on Friday violated international law. UNISFA flights to and from Kadugli have been suspended, but UNISFA will continue to carry out its mandate and support the peace process in the Abyei area, he said.
Abyei's status has been in limbo since the CPA was signed in 2005. The fertile, oil-rich region, which straddles the border between South Sudan and Sudan, was supposed to hold a referendum in January 2011 to decide whether it would be part of the north or south. But residents of Abyei were denied the chance to vote on their future because Juba and Khartoum could not agree on who was eligible to cast a ballot.
The overwhelming majority of residents of Abyei are Ngok Dinka, who are loyal to Juba. Arab Misseriya tribes, who are loyal to Khartoum, migrate through the region and graze their cattle there. The Ngok Dinka voted overwhelmingly in a referendum they organized in October 2013 to join South Sudan, but the referendum has not been recognized by the international community.
The U.N. Security Council established UNISFA in June 2011 to respond to "violence, escalating tensions and population displacement" in Abyei. UNISFA is tasked with monitoring the contested border area and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid. It is authorized to use force to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in Abyei.