Two United Nations civilian protection officials today voiced grave concern over rising tension in the disputed Sudanese territory of Abyei, where recent clashes between rival communities have claimed the lives of more than 100 people and caused the displacement of at least 20,000 others.
The Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, Francis Deng and Edward Luck, said in a joint statement that there are reports that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and allied fighters of the Popular Defense Forces, as well as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army of the southern Government, have deployed forces in Abyei.
The Missireya Arabs, a nomadic herder community, are pitted against members of the Ngok-Dinka ethnic group in a conflict exacerbated by the controversy over a referendum that would give residents of Abyei a chance to decide whether to remain part of the north or join the south, which voted in January to secede.
The inhabitants of Abyei were due to hold a separate referendum simultaneously with the rest of Southern Sudan in January, but attempts to create a referendum commission remain deadlocked, amid feuds between communities in the area over the right to vote.
“Given the perception that the SAF supports the Missireya Arabs and the SPLA supports the Ngok-Dinka, a standoff between the two armies is very dangerous,” said Mr. Deng and Mr. Luck, adding that the animosity “could easily trigger further ethnic-based violence in Abyei.”
“We urge both parties to refrain from any actions that could put the lives of civilians in danger and risk a return to full scale hostilities,” they said.
According to the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the war between the North and the South in 2005, the Ngok-Dinka are dual citizens of the North and the South during the interim period before the referendum in the area.
Mr. Deng and Mr. Luck reminded the Government of Sudan and the Government of Southern Sudan of their responsibility to protect all people in Abyei, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.
“The parties have a shared responsibility towards these populations and must protect them. We call on both parties to initiate a thorough and impartial investigation into the recent incidents of violence in Abyei and to hold those responsible accountable in order to discourage further acts of violence, including forced displacement, which is a crime against humanity,” they said.
They urged both parties to ensure the free, unhindered and expeditious movement of the peacekeepers and staff of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in Abyei to carry out its mandate, which include protecting civilians, internally displaced persons and other vulnerable groups.
Meanwhile, the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) today dispatched a human rights team to the South Darfur village of Amar Jadeed to investigate recent allegations of widespread rape.
UNAMID also announced that its gender advisors will on Friday begin a series of workshops for community leaders and police officers in South and West Darfur on the impact of sexual and gender-based violence. Participants will also learn the proper procedures for reporting cases of rape and for caring for victims of the crime.