The United Nations peacekeeping operation in Sudan has strongly condemned today’s looting and burning of the town of Abyei by armed men, which has forced large numbers of civilians to flee to the south of the disputed area.
The mission (UNMIS) reported that looting and burning began this morning in Abyei, two days after the wider area – disputed by north and south – was taken over by Sudanese Government forces.
That move was condemned by the Security Council, which described it as a serious breach of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the long-running north-south civil war in Sudan.
In a press statement UNMIS said “armed elements” had carried out the looting and burning and noted that the Sudanese armed forces are responsible for maintaining law and order in the areas they control
“UNMIS calls upon the Government of Sudan to urgently ensure that the Sudan Armed Forces fulfil their responsibility and intervene to stop these criminal acts.”
Kouider Zerrouk, a spokesperson for UNMIS, said most of the residents have fled towards the town of Agok in Southern Sudan.
“We can’t ascertain the exact number,” he said, but added that hundreds of thousands of people may have been displaced by today’s attacks and the recent clashes in the wider Abyei area.
Mr. Zerrouk said the identity of the armed groups conducting the looting and burning was not clear, but they were likely to be pro-northern.
“We don’t know who they are in terms of whether they are organized militias or just a group of civilians taking the opportunity of having an empty town and looting and burning the place.”
He stressed that it was the responsibility of the Sudanese armed forces to ensure law and order in Abyei.
The recent violence and deteriorating security in Abyei has also sparked concern from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has urged all sides to cease military operations, withdraw their forces and refrain from acts of antagonism.
Deadly clashes have claimed dozens of lives since the start of the year, when a referendum on Abyei's status that was supposed to have been held never took place amid disagreement on voter eligibility. Southern Sudan will formally secede from the rest of the country on 9 July as a result of a separate referendum.