UN calls on Khartoum troops to quit Abyei

The United Nations has demanded Khartoum withdraw its troops from Abyei after what the south branded an “invasion” of the flashpoint border district prompted warnings Sudan is “close to the precipice” of renewed civil war.

A Security Council delegation headed to Juba for talks with southern President Salva Kiir, after saying they were “very, very concerned about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Abyei” and called on Khartoum to pull out its forces.

“The members of the Security Council call upon the government of Sudan to halt its military operation and to withdraw immediately from Abyei town and its environs,” the French ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, told a joint news conference in Khartoum with his Russian and US counterparts.

Senior US Senator John Kerry, a frequent visitor to Sudan who has put huge energy into encouraging the successful implementation of the 2005 peace deal, warned of the dangers of a return to conflict and told Khartoum it risked torpedoing a promised rapprochement with Washington.

“At this very moment, Sudan stands ominously close to the precipice of war,” said Kerry, who chairs the influential Foreign Relations Committee.

“Both sides must put an end to the recent provocations and quickly get back on course before the situation deteriorates any further,” he said.

“The cumulative impact of this series of events threatens the lives of those on the ground, the peaceful separation between north and south, and any of Khartoum’s hopes for a new relationship with the United States.”

Kerry travelled to Sudan in October, November and January in a bid to persuade Khartoum to cooperate with a promised January referendum on independence for the south that delivered a landslide for secession in return for a promise of better ties with Washington.

Chorus of condemnation
The European Union joined the growing chorus of condemnation of the seizure of Abyei as a threat to peace between north and south in the run-up to international recognition of southern independence in July.

“I condemn the violent incidents in Abyei during the last few days,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, pointing out that it violated the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the two sides, which ended a devastating 1983 to 2005 civil war.

“I therefore appeal to all parties to resolve their differences in the framework of the CPA,” the statement added.

EU foreign ministers would be considering the crisis at their scheduled meeting in Brussels on Monday, she added.

Abyei was granted special status under the 2005 peace deal, and it requires both sides to keep their troops out until a vote on its future.

Khartoum’s Minister of State for the Presidency, Amin Hassan Omer, said on Sunday that the north was now “in control of Abyei and all the area north of the bank of the [Bahr al-Arab] river.

“This is because there are still elements from SPLA [the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army] trying to enforce its presence in Abyei, and this is not acceptable according to the Abyei protocol and the CPA.”

South Sudan’s government dismissed the allegation as an “absolute lie” and warned the north’s “illegal occupation” of Abyei risked tipping the country back to a conflict that would threaten the lives of thousands.

“This is an illegal invasion and breaks all the peace agreements, endangering the lives of thousands of civilians,” said the south’s Information Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin.

“This event is a long-term plan of the government of Khartoum,” he said, accusing the northern troops of “burning houses on a rampage of looting” as he appealed for UN peacekeepers to “come out of their bunkers”.

“Women and children are suffering at the hands of an invading army that doesn’t care,” he said. “They are hungry, in need of medication and out in the heavy rains without shelter.”

The fighting came to a halt later on Sunday, UN peacekeepers said.

Clashes in Abyei have pitted the former civil war enemies against each other since January when the district was due to vote on its future alongside the southern independence referendum.

But the plebiscite was postponed indefinitely as the north and south disagreed on who should be eligible to vote in an area where conflicted loyalties and land disputes keep tensions high.—AFP

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