North Sudan claims control of flashpoint town

SUDAN’S flashpoint Abyei area is a “Northern town,” the North’s occupying army has said, dismissing southern and international calls yesterday to pull troops out after days of fighting there.

“Abyei will remain a Northern town until the population decides on their situation by themselves,” said Khartoum’s defence minister Abdulrahim Mohammed Hussein, quoted by the official Suna news agency.

The fertile border region, claimed by both North and South, was due to vote on its future in January alongside a referendum on independence for the South, which delivered a landslide for secession.

But Abyei’s vote did not happen amid arguments as to who was eligible to vote, and Northern troops and tanks took the contested area on Saturday.

“The (Northern) army will stay in Abyei in order to maintain security and stability until a political decision is taken,” Hussein added.

A UN Security Council delegation was due to hold talks yesterday with Southern president Salva Kiir in the southern capital of Juba.

The southern government has demanded Northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) withdraw immediately.

“The SAF must end their illegal occupation and leave Abyei,” the South’s information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said yesterday.

Thousands of Abyei’s residents — mainly Southern-supporting Dinka Ngok people — are reported to have fled across the border into the South, with houses set on fire and property looted in the Northern-controlled areas.

Southern officials claim that pro-Northern Misseriya, a cattle-herding people who traditionally move through Abyei each year with their animals for grazing, are now entering Abyei in large numbers.

“Misseriya tribes are being brought into Abyei with the support of the Sudanese government, with the intention of occupying the Dinka Ngok territory to justify their participation in the referendum,” Benjamin claimed.

“Nobody can entertain the idea of a Kashmir or a Western Sahara scenario in Abyei,” he added.

Abyei’s capture, in the run-up to international recognition of Southern independence in July, has been condemned by the world powers as a threat to peace between North and South Sudan.

The United States urged the North on Monday to withdraw its forces and said their presence would jeopardise US efforts to normalise ties with Khartoum.

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