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Sudan Army takes control of Abyei

May 22 - 2011 ABYEI

The Sudan Armed Forces captured Abyei town after nightfall on Saturday. The population had already deserted the town, fleeing en masse toward the south. The North sent at least 15 tanks into Abyei town, United Nations officials said.Government-run newspapers and state television began announcing since late Saturday that the Northern army was in control of Abyei. A junior minister, Dr. Amin Hassan Omer, confirmed on Sunday that the Sudanese Army had taken control of Abyei. He stated that they entered Abyei in order to maintain security, not to impose a unilateral solution. The statement followed a meeting with representatives from the UN Security Council who visited Khartoum this weekend.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army had deployed a small force in Abyei as part of the Joint Integrated Units (JIUs). This force was spread over the area in platoon- and company-sized units. The Northern attacking force, on the other hand, “involved a full division that was armed and assembled in Muglad and moved through Diffra,” according to Colonel Philip Aguer, the SPLA spokesman.  

“They approached Abyei from all sides: north, north-east, north-west,” Aguer said today at a press conference in Juba. The SPLA troops “fought more than four battles and they were over-powered.”

The SPLA spokesman said the Southern troops were “engulfed in fighting in all directions,” forcing their withdrawal toward the south. “SPLA is still trying to locate the fate of its two Battalions of JIU which were in Abyei,” he elaborated in a written statement.

“The attack involved 5000 from Sudan Armed Forces, it involved Popular Defense Forces, elements of Janjaweed were transported from Darfur to the areas of Diffra and they were deployed together with the PDF along the borders of Abyei… [and] borders of Unity State together with some other militiamen,” said Aguer.

Doctors Without Borders, which operates a hospital in Agok, 40 kilometers south-east of Abyei, announced that it treated 42 people wounded in the clashes in Abyei.

 A civilian witness told Radio Dabanga from Anyiel, 23 kilometers south of Abyei town, that the entire population had evacuated Abyei towards the south. He estimated that one quarter of the town population fled to Anyiel. He further added that a bomb had landed on a hospital in the Abyei town yesterday, but he had not seen the event himself and could not confirm it. He said many of those fleeing have lost all of their possessions. Similarly, Minister of Information Barnaba Marial said in Juba today that the population is largely without food or shelter during this time of rains.

Another civilian reported independently that he had heard six villages in Abyei were burned. This report may correspond to the account given Friday by Chief Administrator Deng Arop Kuol, who named six targeted areas: Todach, Amiat Barda, Tajalei, Leu, Marial Achack, and Awol Nhom.

Northern officials, including the Army spokesman Al Sawarmi Khaled Saad and Dr. Mandour Al Mahdi, the deputy head of the ruling National Congress Party, justified the attack on Abyei as retaliation for the ambush of SAF troops in northern Abyei on Thursday. Dr. Mandour Al Mahdi said that about 20 soldiers had been killed in the ambush. This figure, however, is not corroborated by an internal UN report on the incident, which could not verify any deaths and noted that the JIU troops were able to disperse.

The Obama Administration condemned the actions of the North in Abyei, calling them "disproportionate and irresponsible." The White House urged the North and South to negotiate a settlement to the Abyei dispute.

Conciliation did not appear likely from President Al Bashir, who issued an administrative order concurring with the military occupation of Abyei. In a republican decree on Saturday, he formally dissolved the Abyei Administration. This too drew condemnation from the White House. The Administration had been appointed nominally by President Bashir but in fact was loyal to the separatist government of the South.

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