May 20, 2011 (ABYEI/KHARTOUM) – North Sudan army announced that 22 of its soldiers were killed in an attack carried against its troops in the contested area of Abyei and accused Southern Sudanese army of being behind it.
- Deputy of Sudanese Army Intelligence Sidiq Aamir Hassan (R) speaks during a joint news conference with northern military spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled in Khartoum May 20, 2011 (Reuters Pictures)
In Abyei, local officials said northern army launched heavy ground and air attacks on the position of southern troops during the day but not figures were available about the human or material losses.
In a press conference held at the Khartoum-based Ministry of Defense on Friday, the deputy chief of staff at the Sudanese Armed Forces’ (SAF) department of intelligence and security, Brig-Gen Sidiq Aamir, restated earlier claims that forces of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), South Sudan army, on Thursday evening ambushed and opened fire on 200 SAF troops s as they were moving outside of Abyei in implementation of Kadugli agreement.
South Sudan, which voted earlier this year to secede in July, signed a security accord with the north in the South Kordofan capital city of Kadugli last January to withdraw all forces from Abyei except the special Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of Northern and Southern personnel, both army and police, alongside UN peacekeepers.
According to Sidiq Aamir, the assailed SAF troopers, which form part of the JIUs, were being escorted by peacekeeping forces of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) on board of six vehicles when the attack occurred.
He further announced that SAF started this morning a massive operation to evacuate the wounded soldiers, going on to pour scorn on UNMIS statement that it could not determine the identity of the attackers.
"The international mission knows too well that there are no unknown forces in the area, in Abyei there is no one except JIU and SPLA forces," he was quoted by the pro-government website Sudan Media Center (SMC).
SAF deputy chief of intelligence stressed that the army would not remain silent in the face of this aggression and reserves the right to respond at the appropriate time and place.
"Abyei is a war zone in the true sense of the word…there is gunfire and burning of forests," he declared.
According to Sidiq Aamir, 22 Sudanese army soldiers were killed in the attack while dozens remain missing, adding that only four vehicles carrying three soldiers survived the attack while three vehicles had gone missing.
He, however, said that north Sudan remains committed to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and would not respond to provocations by SPLA.
Similarly in Khartoum, Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs on Friday summoned the chief of UNMIS, Haile Menkerios, and reported to him details of Abyei attack.
The state minister for foreign affairs, Salah Al-din Wansi, said that the attack represents a "clear breach" of the CPA and it was the second of its kind in the SPLM’s “chain of CPA violations".
Meanwhile, the administration of the oil-producing region of Abyei on Friday accused SAF of launching concurrently aerial and ground attacks.
"The Sudan Armed forces are launching concurrent attacks to take the area. They have been bombarding the area the whole of today to reinforce advancing ground forces. They have taken Marial Achak this afternoon after bombing", said Juac Agok, acting head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the area.
Agok said that SAF ground forces overran the local police in Marial Achak after bombing five other different places in the area, resulting into significant loss of lives and properties of the local people.
"Some people were killed and other sustained severe injuries, said Agok explaining that ground forces of the Sudan Armed forces were using heavy artilleries mounted on vehicles and tanks against local police using only the outdated Russian made Kalashnikovs. The Sudan Armed forces overran an outpost of local police in Marial Achak and took the area because they were well armed".
"I am told they were using heavy artilleries mounted on designated military vehicles accompanied by tanks. The local police had nothing apart from Kalashnikovs. They had no heavy artilleries. They had no vehicles. They had no reinforcement. They had nothing at all", explained the seemingly angered senior official of the South Sudan’s ruling party.
He named Todac, Tajalei, Maker Abior, Noong, and Banthon Bridge south of Abyei to have been areas bombed by a gunship identified as belonging to the Sudan armed forces. "There is nobody owning warplanes in Sudan. It is the government of Sudan and its army. It is the Sudan Armed forces that own planes. They have bombed Maker Abior, Todac, Tajalei, Noong, Banthon Bridge and even Marial Achak before taking it today", explained Agok.
Kouider Zerrouk, official spokesperson of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), in a separate interview with Sudan Tribune, from Khartoum, confirmed aerial bombardment to have taken place south of Abyei.
"Yes, we are told a plane bombed today. It dropped two bombs near a bridge located south of Abyei town today", said Zerrouk, spokesperson of the united Nations Mission in Sudan.
He offered no comments on ground attacks involving two armed forces in the east and north of Abyei on 20 May 2011, but confirmed an attack against its convoy on 19 May in Abyei, saying the incident took place at around 18h30 in Dokura, an area controlled by the Southern Sudan Police Services (SSPS), approximately 10 kilometers north of Abyei town.
"At the time of the attack, the convoy was transporting 200 troops of Joint Integrated Units of the Sudan Armed Forces to their designated post, as part of the deployment plan of the Kadugli Agreements, which had been agreed to by all parties".
"This act constitutes a serious breach of previous agreements made between the two parties. It is also a criminal attack against the UN. UNMIS calls on the parties to immediately investigate the incident and take appropriate action against the perpetrators of this deliberate attack", reads part of the statement obtained Sudan Tribune.
The mission official was keen to remind the parties of their responsibility to protect civilians in the area and that the mission remains ready to continue to assist the parties in the implementation of the Kadugli Agreement and urge them to do everything possible to stay on course in the implementation of this agreement and avoid any actions that could derail it.
The escalation of security situation in Abyei comes two days ahead of an expected visit by a delegation of the UN Security Council’s members to the region. Acuil Akol Miyen, a minister of finance with Abyei administration said on Thursday that it has official information that 15 members of the Security Council will be in the area by Monday 23, May 2011.
Abyei, whose ownership is claimed by both north and south Sudan, has seen several spells of deadly fighting since a referendum to decide the area’s status failed to take place as planned in January due to disagreements between north and south Sudan over who can vote.
The status of the oil-producing region remains one of the major points of contention in the implementation of the CPA, which in 2005 ended nearly half a century of intermittent civil wars between north and south Sudan.