Home | News    Monday 10 January 2011

Deadly clashes in Abyei on first day of South Sudan referendum

By Ngor Arol Garang

January 9, 2011 (JUBA) - A series of clashes over the last three days involving local police force and armed elements allegedly associated with members of nomadic tribe of Misseriya , in the oil-producing region of Abyei has left an unknown number dead.

A family from southern Sudan, who has been staying in the north for 21 years, waits in Khartoum January 9, 2011 to be transported in a convoy back to the Abyei oil region (Reuters)

Yesterday Khartoum-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sahafah reported the more than 49 people were killed and dozens wounded in the clashes in the disputed area, although this has not been confirmed by the UN. Reports over the cause of the violence are not clear with different reasons put forward from both sides.

Al-Sahafah reported Sunday that, nine people of those killed from the Dinka Ngok ethnic group, while the rest were either police of members of the Misseriya tribe. Both sides accuse the other of attacking first. Reuters have reported that a UN official has confirmed the clashes have taken place but have not confirmed the number of killed or injured.

Dinka Ngok sultan, Kual Deng Magok, said the clashes erupted after the Misseriya attempted to capture the village of Macare and that Southern security forces had been ambushed.

But the senior Misseriya leader, Hamdi al-Doudo has said the clashes were triggered by the southern army (SPLA) moving up to 1,500 soldiers into the area, which the Arab nomads regards as a route to grazing fields.

South Kordofan Governor, Ahmed Haroun, has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

Speaking to Sudan Tribune from the oil-producing region, Juac Agok, the acting SPLM chairman in the area, said armed groups camouflaged as nomads killed 28 local police in a series of clashes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"[An] armed group possessing heavy artillery and tanks launched series of attacks on police posts in three different places in the area on Friday and Saturday. They also attacked the same and additional three other locations today," said Agok.

Agok said the clashes occurred in Maker Abior, Miakol, Todach and Shegei.

"They launched heavy attack on the police post today (Sunday) at 11 o’clock this morning at Maker Abior resulting into the killing of 18 on the side of local police and injury of 20 others. This occurred as [a] retaliatory attack, after the Friday attack, in which one police was killed and 9 others in Todach on Saturday," said Agok.

"On their side, we do not have accurate information but we have reports that 22 were killed from today’s attack at Maker. The local police who conducted sentry surveillance at five o’clock today found a lot of dead bodies. I am told 19 bodies were found. This was the clash of today. As for yesterday, 20 were found killed," he said.

The official said that some of those believed to have sustained injuries are taken to a local hospital in an area called Balilal outside of the Abyei region.

"Balilal is a one of the localities under south Kordofan state at the corridors branching to the way to Kadugli and to the north from Abyei. It is in the middle serving as the headquarters of militia group. This is where attacks against Abyei and other places in the south are planned," explained Agok.

The senior official of the southern ruling party in the area also said that 13 were injured on Friday and a further 18 members of local police in Saturday’s attack.

The Abyei administrator, Deng Arop Kuol, also in an interview with Sudan Tribune from Abyei town, confirmed the clash but gave different casualty figures.

"Yes, there were clashes starting on Friday and again today. The armed group best described as Missiriya tribesmen launched series of attacks on civilian settlements in three different locations."

"They attacked Miakol, which is about 18 km north of Abyei town, killing at least one on Friday and 9 others on Saturday. 13 were also injured and 5 today," said Kuol, the Abyei chief administrator.

The top local official, however, said that he and his northern counterpart, the south Kordofan Governor, Ahmed Haroun were ready to find a settlement to the conflict.

"Governor Ahmed Haroun was here today after traveling to Muglad for talks with members of the Misseriya tribe who are currently engaged in these attacks. In our meeting we have discussed and agreed ways forward to stop escalation of these attacks to large scale."

"On our side, we have agreed that our local police will not proceed but remain in their position. Governor Haroun also assured that he would ensure nobody from members of the Missiriya should again launch another retaliatory attack on civilian population and police post we have agreed to find immediate settlement at earliest possible so that peace is restored and movement between the two areas resumes immediately," Kuol told Sudan Tribune from Abyei.

Quizzed on what could have triggered these series of attacks beginning on Friday, Kuol said members of the Missiriya tribe and their leaders reported to have received false reports that the Dinka Ngok were planning to unilaterally declare returning south since attempts to hold referendum in the region have failed.

"The cause of attack is nothing than about false reports that the Misseriya received information that the Dinka Ngok was planning to unilaterally declare returning to the south since attempts to hold referendum as stipulated in the comprehensive peace agreement have failed. They (Misseriya) say they have heard reports that the Dinka Ngok were planning to hold their own referendum today so that they can return to the south and so were trying to deter voters from voting," said Kuol.

Abyei should entering its second day of voting in a referendum on whether it will join the south in remain in the north. The plebiscite has not taken place due to a dispute over whether the Misseriya, who enter Abyei for a few months each year to graze cattle, should be given the right to vote.

Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has demanded the Misseriya be allowed to vote, while the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which governs the south says that only the Dinka Ngok have the right to participate.

Hassan Musa, a leader of one of the sections in Misseriya from Awalad Kamil, categorically told Sudan Tribune from Muglad, a Misseriya stronghold, that they will not accept holding a referendum in Abyei which does not include their participation.

"They should forget a dream to hold a referendum which does not include our participation. The SPLM think they are clever enough and powerful to take Abyei without us. This is false. They will not take it. They will go with it when we are no more existing if this is what they want," said Musa.

Musa accused the SPLM of planning to unilaterally annex Abyei without their participation, a move that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir warned could see a return to north-south conflict.

Musa the SPLM had “refused peaceful settlements by wanting to take Abyei without referendum because they have refused to accept our participation in the referendum vote."

He warned that the Misseriya would resist such a move. "They will only take it when there is no more Misseriya. They will only secede once we are finished," said warning another attack. We will not stop seeking our rights even if it means launching additional to acquire our right," he said.

He said armed soldiers from the Dinka Ngok attacked them on Saturday as some of their clan members were trying to take their cattle to water and grazing areas in the south.

A spokesman for the northern controlled Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in statements to Reuters has accused the southern army the (SPLA) of arming the Dinka Ngok, while "the Misseriya fought alone," without assistance from the SAF, he said.