March 4, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan has accused the government of neighbouring Sudan of killing more than 77 people in the contested region of Abyei, alleging that its army carried out repeated, unprovoked attacks in a bid to invade and occupy the area, which is claimed by both countries.
- UN peacekeepers from Ethiopia patrol the outskirts of the disputed Abyei town that straddles the border between Sudan and South Sudan on 16 September 2013 (Photo: Reuters/Andreea Campeanu)
Deng Biong, a government official assigned with the Abyei brief, told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday that a well-armed force had launched repeated coordinated attacks on civilian settlements in Abyei, with the heaviest fighting occurring on 25 February and 1 March.
Biong alleged the attacks involved elements of the Sudanese army (SAF), as well as armed members of the Misseriya tribe and allied militia under Thomas Thiel.
He said more than seven lives were lost in the first attack, while an estimated 70 people were killed on 1 March.
“The objective of these attacks has been said openly by the government of Sudan … the intention is to push away the people of Abyei to the south of the area, which is unacceptable,” he said.
“The people are living within the areas which the permanent court of arbitration (PCA) identified and delineated as the areas of the Nine Ngok Dinka chiefdom. These attacks are now happening within the Abyei PCA box,” Biong added.
The claims followed accusations by the Sudanese government that the South Sudan army (SPLA) attacked Sudanese citizens north of the 1956 border line, calling on Juba to immediately withdraw its forces.
However, Biong has denied the presence of SPLA troops in the area, expressing disappointment over the UN peacekeeping forces’ (UNISFA) reluctance to act.
He claims that such a large movement of heavily armed troops could not have gone unnoticed by UNISFA.
"The Sudan armed forces were attacking civilians. They have now destroyed the whole village, bringing it down to ashes and killed more than 70 people yet the international community continue to keep silent,” Biong said.
"I believe the United Nations Interim Force for Abyei spotted the movement of this force because it was [too] huge [a] force to be missed. They came fully prepared for the attack with heavy weapons when they attacked Maker Awet, some 17kms north-west of Abyei on Saturday,” he added.
Biong maintains that SPLA forces withdrew from the area in 2011 and have never returned, rejecting claims by the UN that there is evidence to suggest that South Sudanese troops are active in the area.
He claims that repeated requests to the agency to outline their evidence in full have been ignored.
"So as far I know, there are no SPLA forces in the area. The SPLA forces withdrew from the area in 2011, which was witnessed by the whole world,” said Biong.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), Al-Khair Al-Fahim, said more than six complaints had been submitted to UNISFA over repeated violations of the SPLA.
The final status of Abyei still has remained a contentious issue between Sudan and South Sudan after the latter broke away in July 2011, leaving several unresolved post-secession issues.
A referendum proposed by the in the African Union (AU) in 2012 to decide the fate of Abyei stipulated that only those residing permanently in the area would be allowed to vote in the plebiscite, with the Sudanese government rejecting the proposal on the basis it ignored the eligibility of the Misseriya.
The Ngok Dinka went ahead with a unilateral referendum last October, in which they voted overwhelming in favour of joining South Sudan, but Sudan rejected the results, saying they were invalid.