ARMED men burned and looted the flashpoint town of Abyei yesterday, as Southern Sudan’s military said the northern army is moving to carry out a “full-scale war” in the region.
Violence flared late last week in Abyei, a no-man’s land between north and south Sudan that is threatening to send the two sides back to war.
Southern Sudan voted in January to secede from the south, and the region will become an independent country on July 9. But violence in Abyei is overshadowing the march toward independence.
The UN mission in Sudan said armed people were burning and looting in Abyei and said the Sudanese Armed Forces must fulfil their responsibility to intervene to “stop these criminal acts”.
Officials in the north claim the two sides could be brought back from the brink, even as the south said it would respond with force if its territory is breached.
The area is disputed by the ethnic African tribe of the Ngok Dinka and the Arab tribe of Misseriah.
Misseriah tribal chief Mukhtar Babu Nimr dismissed the calls and warnings by southerners and the UN Security Council, saying that for months the southerners have violated the Abyei protocol and no one complained.
“Abyei was occupied by the southern forces for six months, and there was not a single northern,” he said. “No one said anything. Now, hours after southerners leave, it is a problem. This is very strange.”
Civilians fleeing the violence in Abyei are moving further south over fears of more attacks, according to a medical aid official who added that children fleeing the conflict are walking long distances by themselves and risking dehydration.
Tanks from northern Sudan rolled into Abyei on Saturday, scattering southern troops that were there as part of a joint security unit.
The UN compound was hit with mortar fire.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council called for an immediate end to military action, blaming both sides for the violence.
The seizure of the town followed an attack on a convoy of northern soldiers by southern forces on Thursday and two days of aerial bombardment by the north.
Both north and south claim Abyei, a fertile region near several oil fields that has long been recognised as a trigger for violence.
The escalation in violence comes as Southern Sudan, which is predominantly ethnic African, is due to become the world’s newest country on July 9. The south voted overwhelmingly to secede from the Arab- dominated north in a January referendum.
Abyei was also due to hold a referendum on whether it would remain part of the north or south, but it was cancelled amid disagreements over who was eligible to vote.
Most of Sudan’s oil is in the south but the pipeline needed to export it runs through northern territory to a northern-held port.
Southern army spokesman Col Philip Aguer said the northern military “is not only just attacking Abyei, but it’s moving for a full-scale war.” The south “will not just wait and allow the [Sudanese Armed Forces] to invade Southern Sudan. We have our limits where we are ready to protect our territory.”
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