Sudan war spills over into restive border, worsens Abyei crisis


A truck piled high with looted items as it drives past businesses and homesteads burning in the center of the disputed border town of Abyei on May 28, 2011. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • A group of youth from Twic Mayardit, backed by forces loyal to spiritual leader Gai Machiek killed at least 37 people and wounded 36 others on February 4. 

The war in Sudan has spilled over to the restive border region of Abyei, potentially scuttling recent efforts to resolve the long-standing conflict between Ngok Dinka ethnic group in South Sudan and the Misseriya from West Kordofan State in Sudan.

A group of youth from Twic Mayardit, backed by forces loyal to spiritual leader Gai Machiek killed at least 37 people and wounded 36 others on February 4. 

The initial attacks the previous day left 19 people dead and 18 injured, according to Koch, who also serves as the Abyei government spokesperson.  The youth have also attacked the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (Unisfa) base.

Abyei’s Information Minister Bulis Koch said that the attacks and the heinous killings of innocent civilians, the burning of local markets and residential areas, the theft of one thousand head of cattle, and the looting of property—have further complicated discussions of the status of Abyei.

The increased violence in Abyei forced President Salva Kiir and his first deputy Riek Machar to call for a joint security meeting over a humanitarian situation that has seen hundreds of civilians flee to the Unisfa base.

  1. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations in a letter to the Security Council, said that ongoing fighting in Sudan has hurt the ongoing negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan on the final status of the disputed oil-rich Abyei region.

“The fighting created difficulties for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), which maintains peace in the demilitarised zone along the border between Sudan and South Sudan and is supported by Unisfa,” said Lacroix in a statement.

More than 100,000 people have fled to South Sudan since the fighting began on April 15 and the Juba government has waived visa requirements for those fleeing the war.

Twic Dinka from Warrap State is locked in a dispute with Ngok Dinka from Abyei over the location of an administrative boundary, despite the presence of the Abyei Special Administrative Area that leading the negotiations.

The disputed region of Abyei between Sudan and South Sudan has borne the brunt of the conflict in Sudan, with the flow of the displaced heightening the existing tensions in the region between the Ngok Dinka and the Twic communities, and the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya from Sudan.

Abyei, which lies between Sudan’s states of South Kordofan and Warrap, and Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal states in South Sudan, has been experiencing tensions for 18 years, having failed to conduct a referendum to determine to which country they belong.

The disputed oil rich Abyei region was supposed to hold a simultaneous referendum with South Sudan in January 2011 to decide whether they want to belong to Sudan or South Sudan, but, South Sudan and Sudan have failed to reach an agreement on who can vote in the referendum.

Khartoum had demanded the participation of the Misseriya pastoralists who come to the north of Abyei to graze their herds and for water in River Kiir during the dry seasons, but Juba had objected arguing that the Misseriya who belong to Sudan are not permanent residents of the region.

Frustrated by the delay in settling the status of Abyei, the Ngok Dinka in 2013 unilaterally decided to hold their referendum in which the Abyei residents voted 90 percent have Abyei to join South Sudan.

However, the African Union, Juba, and Khartoum refused to recognise the results since it was done outside the 2005 peace agreement.