Almost 113,000 people have fled Sudan’s disputed border region of Abyei since fighting started last month between troops from the north and south, the United Nations said today.
A Sudanese army Antonov aircraft dropped two bombs 500 meters to 1 kilometer from the UN compound today in Kadugli, the capital of northern Sudan’s Southern Kordofan state, where clashes over the last two weeks displaced 60,000 people, said UN spokesman Kouider Zerrouk. The bombs were dropped in the state, which borders Abyei, even though there were no clashes around the compound, he said.
“The excessive use of bombardment recently is threatening our presence and putting the lives of civilians at high risk,” Zerrouk said today by phone from Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.
Six shells also fired today by the Sudan Armed Forces from the northern part of Abyei hit the town of Agok, south of the Kiir River, Zerrouk said. The Sudanese army “is claiming the shelling was part of an exercise,” he said.
The river has formed a barrier between the two armies since President Umar al-Bashir’s Sudan Armed Forces occupied Abyei on May 21 after accusing southern soldiers of attacking them. The UN Security Council urged the northern army to withdraw on concern that the action could reignite the two-decade civil war in sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil producer that ended in 2005. The south is due to become independent on July 9.
“Both sides must stop military actions which are causing fear to the already affected populations in the area,” Zerrouk said. “A significant number” of displaced people are still taking refuge in Agok, he said.
The Kiir, or Bahr al-Arab as it is known in the north, was the site of a clash between armies from north and south on June 15 that wounded 10 people, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an e-mailed statement.
Five government soldiers were killed and seven southern troops wounded in the June 15 fighting along the Kiir, Southern Sudanese army spokesman Philip Aguer said yesterday by phone from Juba, the regional capital. Sudan’s army spokesman, Al-Sawarmi Khaled, said his forces weren’t involved.
Aguer said the fighting started when northern troops crossed south of the river. The UN humanitarian affairs office said the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Sudan couldn’t confirm if the fighting occurred south of the river.
The Sudanese army, which controls the Abyei region north of the river, released 11 civilians yesterday and 6 on June 13, from about 23 people in its custody, according to the UN statement. It didn’t say why they were being held.
Delegations from the north and south are discussing the proposed mandate of an Ethiopian force that would replace UN peacekeepers in the region after Southern Sudan’s independence. Talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, over Abyei also include the structure of the region’s future administration.
The talks will also focus on a cease-fire in northern Sudan’s only oil-producing state, Southern Kordofan, Thabo Mbeki, head of the African Union’s High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, said yesterday.
Four Egyptian peacekeepers were detained by the Sudan Armed Forces for two hours yesterday in Kadugli, the state capital, where “intermittent fighting, artillery shelling and military build-up” continued today, Zerrouk said.
“We condemn the detention and abuse yesterday by SAF in Kadugli of four peacekeepers who were on patrol to assess the situation in town,” Zerrouk said, urging both sides to “immediately stop intimidating and harassing UN staff.”
Sudanese army spokesman Khaled criticized the UN mission in Sudan, saying at a press conference yesterday in Khartoum that the mission is biased against the northern army in its assessment and reporting of the clashes on the north-south Sudanese border.
A referendum in Abyei scheduled in January on whether to join the south or remain a special administrative region in the north was canceled because of disagreements over who was eligible to vote. The northern army has said it won’t withdraw from Abyei until a new agreement is reached.
Abyei is contested between the region’s Ngok Dinka people, who are settled in the area and consider themselves southerners, and Misseriya nomads who herd their cattle south in the dry season and are supported by the government in Khartoum.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, in a 2009 ruling, set Abyei’s borders to the area around Ngok Dinka settlements. That largely excluded the Misseriya, who say that as seasonal inhabitants of the area, they should also have the right to vote.
The court also set key oilfields run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co., which is 40 percent owned by Beijing-based China National Petroleum Corp., outside of the Abyei region. Abyei produces less than 2,500 barrels a day, according to Sudan’s Oil Ministry.