Sudan: UN efforts under way to assist civilians displaced from Abyei

31 May 2011
Displaced people fleeing fighting in Abyei, in Agok, Sudan

The United Nations said today that humanitarian operations in Sudan are under way, focusing on identifying the location of the tens of thousands of civilians uprooted by the recent clashes in the disputed town of Abyei and responding to critical relief needs.

However, the scale of the displacement has placed considerable strain on the response operation and conditions among displaced groups are worrying, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The disputed town of Abyei, which is contested by both north and south Sudan, was the scene of renewed violence last week, including looting and burning, following the takeover of the area by Sudanese Government forces.

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.

The top UN envoy to Sudan, Haile Menkerios, told the Security Council today that the situation in Abyei could lead to a further deterioration of relations between north and south Sudan that could hamper the establishment of two viable States at peace.

Mr. Menkerios, the head of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), added that with concerted efforts by the international community and regional countries to urge, encourage and assist the two parties to do what is right for their future, “it is possible for them to avoid an acrimonious divorce with lasting consequences.”

According to OCHA, insecurity, the lack of response partners on the ground and logistical constraints have limited access by humanitarian actors to Agok and surrounding villages, as has a chronic shortage of fuel.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP), which was supporting 62,000 people before the clashes began, has started distributing food to some 6,000 newly-uprooted people.

Noting that the displacements come at the height of the planting season, the agency said that unless people are able to return to their farms, there will be a shortage of food and that the number of those in need of food aid could climb to 100,000.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it is concerned about the risk of wider displacement in the area south of Abyei, after a field visit there last week found the town virtually emptied of its normal population of 50,000 to 55,000 inhabitants.

“Large numbers of fighters were present on the streets. Pilfering was openly going on, with people apparently organizing batches of stolen belongings,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.

He added that the UN team saw a stream of civilians heading south towards and past Agok. “A number of villages just south of Abyei were burning. Many people feared that Agok itself might soon be attacked,” said Mr. Edwards.

UNHCR says that so far 31,256 displaced people have been registered in Warrap state and 27,961 in Agok itself. Smaller numbers of displaced people have also been seen in neighbouring states to the southwest of Abyei.

The status of Abyei is one of several outstanding issues related to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the long-running north-south civil war in Sudan. Others include the conclusion of popular consultations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and the demarcation of the border. Agreement on key post-secession issues, including wealth sharing and citizenship, are also outstanding.

“There is an urgent need for the parties to address the outstanding CPA and post-secession issues as soon as possible,” Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Alain Le Roy told the Council meeting, as he presented Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s most recent report on Sudan.

In the report, Mr. Ban stressed that the overarching condition for peace and stability in Sudan and the region remains the establishment of good neighbourly relations between the north and the south, and that the dispute over the future of Abyei is the greatest challenge to the CPA.

He also recommended that the Council establish a UN operation to be known as the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which would be a successor mission to UNMIS and help the Government and people of the newly independent nation to consolidate peace.

Mr. Ban had urged the parties and the Council to consider a technical roll-over of UNMIS that would have provided a transition period until the parties were able to reach a settlement on the outstanding issues.

However, the Government of Sudan has decided not to consent to a technical roll-over of UNMIS, Mr. Le Roy informed the Council. As such, he added, the UN stands ready to deploy a mission in Southern Sudan as outlined by the Secretary-General.


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