“An Abyei Timeline: The Long Road to Khartoum’s Military Invasion”

This timeline provides a schematic chronicle of events from 1905 through the Abyei Protocol (2004) to the present [1], with particular emphasis on the period between October 2010 and May 2011. The latter part of the timeline attempts to demonstrate (1) just how fully the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime calculated and prepared for its military invasion; (2) when de facto military control of Abyei was achieved; (3) what served as pretext for actual military invasion; (4) and the civilian consequences of the past week of violence, looting, and burning.

Dates and events in this timeline become progressively more detailed and analytic. For a scalable, highly detailed map of Abyei and the surrounding regions of Sudan, see “SU-PLAN-06-A0-5August07-Southern Kordofan Planning Map” at http://www.unsudanig.org/library/mapcatalogue/3areas/index.php .

1905: The Dinka Ngok, the northernmost of the three major Dinka groups, are incorporated into the administration of Kordofan by British colonial rulers.

1950/1960s: The Dinka Ngok are increasingly marginalized within local and parliamentary government.

!965: An unknown number of Dinka men women and children burned alive while in police custody in Babanousa and Muglad (present South Kordofan); this is the first known large-scale massacre of the Dinka by nomadic Arab groups.

1970: On September 17, while on an evening walk near his village, Ngok Paramount Chief Monyak Deng, two of his brothers, and three uncles are shot dead by a Northern military squad of assassins.

1955-1972: The first Sudanese civil war concludes with the Addis Ababa peace agreement.

1970s: Successive Khartoum regimes progressively annex the territory of the Dinka Ngok by means of the nomadic Misseriya Arab tribal groups.

1972: The Addis Ababa peace agreement promises the Dinka Ngok a self-determination referendum, with a choice to rejoin the South. The referendum is never held, as oil is discovered in the region and the Nimieri regime in Khartoum abrogates the Addis agreement in 1983. (See especially Douglas Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, 2003)

1977: Two trucks carrying 84 Ngok Dinka passengers are ambushed twenty kilometers outside Muglad (South Kordofan). Reports of sporadic raids and killings by Misseriya Arab groups from the North are subsequently continuous.

1980s/1990s: The process of annexation continues as Khartoum mobilizes Misseriya militias during the second Sudanese civil war (1983-2005).

1990s: Abyei is also on the front-line of what will become the “oil war”—the intense fighting concentrated in and around what was then Greater Upper Nile and Kordofan State in the North. Fighting becomes particularly intense, with massive civilian destruction and displacement, in 1998—the year before the National Islamic Front begins significant crude oil exports. Many of these atrocity crimes are recorded in reports of the time (see especially John Ryle and Georgette Gagnon, October 2001, http://www.swrtc.ca/docs/oil%20Investigation.pdf ).

July 2002: The Machakos Protocol, guaranteeing a Southern self-determination referendum, is signed by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

October 2002: A “cessation of offensive hostilities agreement” is signed by the NIF/NCP. The agreement largely holds, although there are significant violations of the agreement prior to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005).

2003: Major counterinsurgency warfare begins in Darfur; it quickly becomes genocidal in nature.

2004: Abyei, South Kordofan (including the Nuba Mountains), and Blue Nile prove the most difficult and contentious of the various issues negotiated by the parties in the Naivasha (Kenya) peace talks. In the end, South Kordofan and Blue Nile are granted only vague “popular consultations,” while Abyei is guaranteed a self-determination referendum, to be held on January 9, 2011, the same date as the self-determination referendum for the South as a whole. The terms of the referendum provide as an option for Abyei to join the South. This and other specific terms for the referendum and final resolution of Abyei’s borders are included in the “Abyei Protocol” (http://reliefweb.int/node/147977 ).

2005: On January 9, 2005 the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is signed in Kenya. It includes the Abyei Protocol, which stipulates that an Abyei Boundaries Commission be created to undertake the work of delineating the borders of the area that will vote in the self-determination referendum. Their work will be final and binding.

In July 2005 the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC) submits its final report. The Commission has been chosen equally by Khartoum and Juba; all members are distinguished students of Sudan and its history.

2005-2008: NIF/NCP President al-Bashir refuses to accept the finding, declaring that the Commission exceeded its authority. In fact, the Commission was extraordinarily scrupulous in its research and findings. [2]

May 2008: Beginning on May 13, 2008, Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) attack villages north of Abyei and then burn Abyei town to the ground, killing dozens and displacing as many as 50,000 southward (mainly to Agok, just south of the River Kiir/Bahr el Arab in Warrab State). Major responsibility for the destruction and violence is assigned by all observers to the notorious SAF 31st Brigade. Aerial bombardment of civilian targets was also authoritatively reported. [3] A contingent of the UN Peacekeeping force (UNMIS)—equipped with armored personnel carriers—refuses to act, despite a Chapter 7 mandate to protect civilians.

July 7, 2008: The Khartoum regime and the SPLM agree before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (The Hague) to “final and binding” arbitration in delineating Abyei’s boundaries. “Final and binding” is emphasized on page 1 of the document.

July 22, 2009: The Permanent Court of Arbitration announces its finding, delineating Abyei in such a fashion as to reduce its size (most notably in the east) and removing the highly productive Heglig and Bamboo oil sites from the newly delineated region. The SPLM is not pleased with the results, but accepts them nonetheless as “final and binding.” Abyei as newly defined is even more predominantly populated by Dinka Ngok, perhaps a consideration in the tribunal’s deliberations, even if not explicit. This decision should have resolved the Abyei issue permanently, and made possible expeditious appointment of an Abyei Referendum Commission as stipulated in the Abyei Protocol. Khartoum has blocked formation of this commission to the present day.

July 2010: Salah Gosh, former head of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service and then a senior member of the NIF/NCP regime, declares that the Abyei issue is still not resolved: “The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling did not resolve the dispute” (http://www.sudantribune.com/Sudan-s-security-adviser-says-PCA.html ) “Final and binding” appears to have a peculiar meaning for the NIF/NCP.

September 2010: The NIF/NCP has made clear that it regards Abyei as an issue still up for negotiation, and works to forestall any movement toward the region’s self-determination referendum scheduled for January 9, 2011. The Obama administration and its special envoy Scott Gration appear determined to do whatever it takes to secure Khartoum’s peaceful acceptance of the broader Southern self-determination referendum. In a terrible diplomatic blunder, this effort extends to pushing the South to accept further compromises on Abyei—despite the Abyei Protocol and the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

October 2010: By October special envoy Gration, Senator John Kerry (a frequent Obama emissary to Sudan), and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are all publicly pushing for compromise. As Senator Kerry puts the matter in late October, as it becomes clear that the SPLM would compromise no further: “a few hundred square miles cannot be allowed to stand in the way of progress when the fate of millions of people is at stake” (http://reliefweb.int/node/372107 ). In fact, Abyei is still over 4,000 square miles—only a bit smaller than the state of Connecticut next to Kerry’s own Massachusetts. Moreover, Kerry’s comment makes clear he knows nothing of the meaning of Abyei for the people of the South. Far too much such ignorance defines Obama administration policy in Sudan.

Gration’s October plan, a surprise to the SPLM, includes endorsing Khartoum’s proposal for yet further division of Abyei between North and South. Deng Alor, a senior member of the SPLM who is from Abyei, was interviewed by Douglas Johnson about his October meeting with Gration at the Addis talks: “Gration came last month [October], I think in his attempt to arrive at any solution, not necessarily a just decision [to Abyei]. That was the first time the issue of the division of the area [Abyei] into two came up.” With this, as Douglas Johnson notes, “the U.S. had abandoned any pretence of addressing the root causes of the dispute and in effect are validating the land grab of the northern settlements and dispossession of the Ngok during the war.” The ambitions of the landmark Machakos Protocol—to end war in Sudan “in a just and sustainable manner by addressing the root causes of the conflict”—are betrayed in deepest consequence.

November December 2010: Khartoum is emboldened by increasing U.S. desperation and Secretary Clinton’s November 16 statement, declaring: “Most urgently, the parties [Khartoum and the southern leadership] must make the tough compromises necessary to settle the status of Abyei” (http://blogs.state.gov/sudan/index.php/site/entry/clinton_unsc_sudan ). It is during this time that there are significant military developments in and around Abyei. In the run-up to the Southern self-determination referendum, Khartoum bombs military and civilian targets in the South on a number of occasions in November 2010, December 2010, and January 2011. Diplomacy, now under the weak and misguided leadership of Thabo Mbeki [4], makes no progress. The U.S. is joined by the rest of the international community in indulging an expedient “moral equivalency” in speaking of Khartoum and Juba (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article291.html ).

January 2011: Although the Southern self-determination referendum is held in relatively peaceful circumstances, Abyei is denied its own. Khartoum has come to insist on the importance of regarding nomadic Misseriya Arabs as “residents” of Abyei, an issue the regime had not highlighted or even discussed at the time the Abyei Protocol was negotiated. Nor had it been an issue when President al-Bashir refused to accept the findings of the Abyei Boundaries Commission (July 2005 and following). Indeed, the Misseriya do not figure prominently in Khartoum’s discourse about Abyei until well after the finding of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (July 2009). The Misseriya are an important political constituency for the Khartoum regime, and they have been a key source of militia fighters against the people of the South, including Abyei. But the growing insistence on the “political rights” of the Misseriya—by a tyrannical regime that allows no political rights to dissenters—is mainly expedient, a means of drawing further concessions from Juba on Abyei.

Military developments accelerate in January 2011. McClatchey News reports that
hundreds of Misseriya militia launched an attack on Abyei town that “killed dozens of combatants from the African south. ‘We were very close to complete catastrophe,’ said one senior Western diplomat in Sudan, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter].” On January 10—the day after the referendum—Khartoum bombs targets in Raja County, Western Bahr el Ghazal. Dozens of civilians in Abyei are killed or wounded, mainly by increasingly active Misseriya militia forces (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article293.html ).

January 13: In Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan, Juba and Khartoum agree to measures that will (1) ensure freedom of migration for Misseriya nomads to Abyei and further south through agreed upon migratory routes and (2) provide to the Dinka Ngok blood compensation for deaths that occurred during the previous migration season (a follow-up agreement is signed on January 17, attempting to re-organize security forces in a manner designed to bring calm). Khartoum and the Misseriya renege on their commitments, and the Ngok residents and SPLA police prevent the annual migration of Misseriya cattle. Tensions escalate.

January 27: The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) issues its first report (http://www.satsentinel.org/reports ), based on satellite imagery of the Abyei/South Kordofan region. This report finds that the SAF “has deployed company-sized units of troops equipped with light armor and artillery in areas of South Kordofan around the oil-producing Abyei region and other strategic areas along Sudan’s volatile North-South border.” Special attention is devoted to “SAF deployments, artillery, and fortifications at an outpost near Kharassana [just north of Abyei].” The second SSP report, in March, reports on the first in a series of growing clashes targeting Dinka Ngok settlements: “This emergency report analyzes DigitalGlobe satellite imagery indicative of the intentional destruction of Tajalei village in Sudan’s contested Abyei region.”

February 2011: Tensions continue to escalate as Ngok leaders block traditional migratory routes; except for this year’s bountiful pasturage, the situation would have become immediately explosive. Military build-up of SAF regular and Misseriya militia forces continues; Popular Defense Forces (PDF) units are also reported.

March 2011: Violence has become uncontrollable (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article312.html ), and yet there is no appropriate urgency in the response of the international community. This is so despite four key reports from the SSP, outlining the growing military threat:

March 4: “Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has confirmed through the analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery that buildings consistent with civilian infrastructure appear to have been intentionally burned Maker Abior and Todach villages. Some 100 people in the Abyei region have reportedly died in the clashes to date.”

March 8: “This emergency report analyzes DigitalGlobe satellite imagery indicative of the intentional destruction of Tajalei village in Sudan’s contested Abyei region.”

March 10: “Following the recent razing of three villages, there has been increased military activity in and around the contested Abyei region of Sudan during the past week. Actors aligned with both the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) appear to have improved their defensive positions and mobilized additional offensive capacity, including, in one case, vehicles consistent with the transport of heavy armor.”

March 22: “The Satellite Sentinel Project has released imagery confirming the movement of additional forces backed by the Government of Sudan into the contested Abyei region. The latest imagery reveals the presence of fortified encampments inside Abyei near Bongo, Goli and Diffra.”

Military seizure of Abyei is clearly imminent, and yet the international community remains paralyzed, and the UN peacekeeping mission in the region (UNMIS) continues to demonstrate its fundamental weaknesses.

April 2011: Throughout April 2011 Khartoum’s language over Abyei becomes more insistent, more threatening (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article321.html ). By the end of April Khartoum’s ambassador to the UN, Dafallah Al Haj Ali Osman, “warn[s] of the outbreak of war in the Abyei area—disputed between the north and south—in the case of taking any unilateral move by the South [on Abyei].” The “compromising” that had been so important to special envoy Gration and Secretary of State Clinton is explicitly rejected by Khartoum, which has effectively taken military control of Abyei by this time. Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, the most powerful advisor to President al-Bashir, provides a clear picture of the regime’s intransigence when he declares, “there will be no compromise over Abyei” (Sudan Tribune, April 4, 2011).

By month’s end military invasion has become simply a matter of time. Dinka Ngok settlements north of Abyei town, which lies far to the south within Abyei, are deserted, helping to pave the way for the assault of May 20/21. A number of villages north of Abyei are razed or partially burned by Khartoum-allied (and -supplied) Misseriya militia, including Todac, Tajalei, Maker Abior, Wungok, Dungop, and Noong. More than 150 civilians are killed, and according to Doctors Without Borders/Mdecins sans Frontires (MSF) and others, tens of thousands have fled south from Abyei town and surrounding villages.

Khartoum’s regular military forces are clearly involved in the attacks. The authoritative Small Arms Survey reports in its April 27 update on Abyei (http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/facts-figures-abyei.php ):

“Sources in the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) confirm that helicopters were used to ferry out the wounded following the 2 March attack on Maker [Abior], and civilian witnesses reported seeing militia fighters in SAF uniforms, as well as the uniform of the Central Reserve Police, the combat-trained force that in recent years has been massively expanded in Kordofan [north of Abyei]. Witnesses also report SAF vehicles, disguised with mud, being used in the attack.” (page 4)

The Satellite Sentinel Project issues two new reports (April 7 and April 18) detailing offensive military developments by the SAF, PDF, and irregular Misseriya militia in the Abyei region, including newly fortified locations inside Abyei at Diffra, Bongo, and Goli.

Encampments at both Diffra (the only oil production site in Abyei) and Bongo appear capable of housing at least a company and possibly a battalion (the Bongo encampment had grown some 25 percent between SSP’s reports of March 10 and March 22, 2011). The new compound at Goli is consistent with a military outpost of company size.

Heavy armor and HETs (heavy equipment transport vehicles) were sighted at the Nyama encampment, some 95 kilometers north of Abyei town on March 9. The camp has artillery as well as a mix of light vehicles and heavy trucks.

Two Mi-24 helicopter gunships are seen based at Muglad, South Kordofan and at least 13 main battle tanks are based within 200 kilometers of Abyei. Four main battle tanks (likely T-55s) are seen in Kharassana, yet another SAF military outpost very close to Abyei.

Militarily significant infrastructure development in South Kordofan includes rapid expansion and development of roads leading to Abyei, and securing a new underground fuel depot at the air base in Muglad; this is the air base where Mi-24 helicopter gunships are identified by satellite. There is also evidence of an improvement to SAF fortification near Heglig, south of Kharassana and even closer to Abyei town. By May 2011, the force at Heglig will have tripled in size.

The armaments that have been introduced into South Kordofan and Abyei by Khartoum are staggering in scale, as reported by the Small Arms Survey (http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/facts-figures.php ).

May 2011: Throughout the month military invasion looms ever closer. Southern forces have been powerless to stop the relentless attacks in Abyei by Misseriya and PDF militia forces. The international community refuses to demand, in consequential terms, a rollback of Khartoum’s military advances; widespread augmentation of forces, fortifications, logistics, and firepower are unchallenged.

May 15, 2011: Several SPLA soldiers are killed in an ambush by Khartoum-allied forces. Southern police forces (actually SPLA soldiers) in general, throughout Abyei, are extremely tense.

May 19: In a chaotic moment, a dispute between an SAF officer and SPLA soldier becomes heated, a shot is fired in the air, and the SAF force (a contingent of some 200 soldiers, nominally under UNMIS escort) immediately responds with immensely destructive firepower, including anti-tank weapons (RPG-7s). The initial account of the incident by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Sudan, Haile Menkerios, relies entirely on an account offered by two SAF officers. It is on the basis of this deeply distorted narrative that the UN hastily condemns the SPLA for “criminal acts.” Convinced that it has a plausible casus belli, Khartoum launches the invasion of Abyei the next day. (See my extended account of the events of May 19 at http://dissentmagazine.org/atw.php?id=457 ).

May 20 21: Military seizure of all of Abyei, including Abyei town, is completed. The SSP reports (May 24) on the details of the invasion revealed by satellite photography, including the use of military air assets.

May 24: Al-Bashir declares, “Abyei is northern Sudanese land. We will not withdraw from it” (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/05/26/sudan_falls_apart ). Reports begin to emerge of widespread “organized looting” and destruction of Abyei town by Misseriya militia members, assisted by SAF soldiers. SSP photographs show “northern soldiers standing by as militia members load trucks full of looted food and other goods.” This is confirmed in an SSP report of May 26, 2011, which uses both satellite photography as well as ground photography from Abyei town. Such actions by the SAF and the militia forces they control are a “grave breach” of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Both humanitarian food stores and medical supplies are among the targets of the looters, as UN IRIN reports (May 27, 2011, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=92832 ):

“Facilities run by other UN agencies and NGOs in the town have also been targeted. ‘Items looted include medical supplies, surgical equipment, non-food items and water and hygiene equipment. These supplies had been dispatched to Abyei town in recent weeks to respond to urgent needs of the town residents and the rural population of surrounding villages,’ the UN Country Team in Sudan stated.”

May 25: The New York Times reports in its lead paragraph on Abyei (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/26/world/africa/26sudan.html?_r=1 ):

“After seizing a disputed town on the border of the breakaway region of southern Sudan on Saturday, the army of northern Sudan is now facilitating a relatively large influx of nomadic people into the area, according to new United Nations field reports. United Nations officials said the move could mean that the Sudanese government is trying to “***ethnically cleanse***” the area, in a bid to ***permanently change its demographics*** and annex the town, Abyei, just weeks before southern Sudan is supposed to split off from the north and form its own country.” (emphasis added)

There is an uncanny echo of a directive from Janjaweed chief Musa Hilal concerning the fate of Darfur and its non-Arab/African population: “Change the demography of Darfur,” he urged his followers, “and empty it of African tribes” (http://goo.gl/PVDL8 ). Such “changed demography” has produced hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and displaced millions.

The Times continues, quoting a longtime student of Abyei: “‘The north has begun to employ the same kind of scorched-earth tactics we saw Khartoum use in Darfur,’ said Eliza Griswold, who has closely studied Abyei and is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.” SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer declares of Khartoum, “They are settling Misseriya and Baggara Arab tribes in Abyei, people who are not from the area.” U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice declares that there are “horrific reports of looting and burning” (http://goo.gl/wlWs7 ).

Khartoum, for its part, bizarrely declares that it has “entered Abyei in implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement” (http://goo.gl/dfbFH ). The language from regime officials continues to harden, and there is no indication of compromise. Indeed, the language is of threats: al-Bashir declares that his army will respond “aggressively” to provocations by the SPLA; he tells Khartoum radio that he has given the “green light” to his forces to “respond to any violations” committed by the SPLA. He also insistently reiterates that, “Abyei is North Sudanese land.”

Ban Ki-moon proposes a new UN peacekeeping force for the region, but it is based on the situation prior to May 19, and presumes relative stability. It is immediately rendered irrelevant. Absurdly, Ban declares, “We must all impress on the parties that military confrontation in Abyei is not an option.” But there is only one party that has resorted to the military “option”; in a remarkably restrained speech following the invasion of Abyei, President of South Sudan Salva Kiir declares: “We will not go back to war, it will not happen. We are committed to peace” (http://www.nation.co.ke/News/africa/-/1066/1170138/-/12lwau5/-/ ). Kiir also call for an international force to be deployed to Abyei. International response to this remarkable speech is tepid. (Kiir does not “apologize” for the events of May 19.)

On the basis of the most recent satellite and ground photography from the SSP, the Enough Project declares, “These images provide supporting documentary evidence of war crimes and ***crimes against humanity*** in Abyei.” (emphasis added)

May 26: U.S. declares that the military seizure of Abyei was “premeditated,” while Khartoum scoffs at U.S. threats to continue sanctions and refrain from helping the regime obtain desperately needed external debt relief.

Misseriya militia forces in Abyei town fire 14 rounds at four UN helicopters. UNMIS spokeswoman Hua Jiang declares that, “Militia that appear to be Misseriya are moving southwards. Abyei town is deserted of civilians.”

The SSP reveals satellite photographic evidence showing, “the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) [are] equipped with heavy armor and artillery at the El Obeid Barracks, approximately 270 miles from Abyei town, possibly preparing for deployment to southern areas. Based on analysis of available transportation logistics and the formation of the units, SSP has concluded that the forces there are capable of imminent forward movement” (http://goo.gl/EBCTs ). SAF Chief of Staff General Esmat Abdel-Rahman declares that, “the army will carry out a major operation next week to expel any Southern troops inside the North.” Given the invasion of Abyei and the complete control over the region exerted by Khartoum, it is difficult to know the implications of this ominous threat. Some observers believe that Khartoum still eyes the rich oil fields of Unity State in the South, and may be willing to seize them as a further source of leverage in negotiating with Juba over oil transit fees. A range of “security” pretexts are available.

Doctors Without Borders/Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF) declares that, “the security situation continues to deteriorate.” Other aid organizations report fleeing civilians, inadequate humanitarian resources, and desperation on the difficult trek into the South’s Twic County (Warrab State), especially to Agok and Turelei (although Lise Grande, humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, worries about the 20,000 who have fled even Agok: “Agok is now empty.”). Estimates of those displaced range as high as 80,000, according to local officials speaking with Reuters; the consensus figure appears to be approximately 50,000 (it is unlikely that the entire Dinka Ngok population of Abyei reaches 100,000). “Civilians are down on streets and in bushes, no food, no shelter, no water and no medical assistance,” an Anglican church umbrella group reports (http://goo.gl/eAYrV ).

Many of those fleeing are children and the elderly; they are especially vulnerable to dehydration, according to MSF. Some have simply halted out of exhaustion. Many have already died. A great many have fled as far as Turelei, 130 kilometers from Abyei; one humanitarian report has 15,000 displaced people living in the open near the town (local officials again use a much higher figure). Another 4,000 people are reported in the nearby village of Mayen Abun.

May 27: The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) offers a devastating picture of the human and humanitarian consequences of Khartoum’s brutal invasion of Abyei (http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=92832 ):

“‘We have seen thousands of people mainly women and children carrying bags on their heads, or sitting on mats on the side of the road, exhausted by hours of walking. The populations of both Abyei and Agok [40km to the south] have been displaced and are spread out in several different areas: near Turalei, near Mayen-Abun and on the road to Agok,’ said MSF head of mission Raphael Gorgeu.”

“‘There are severe signs of dehydration among many children who are on the move. We are very concerned about the harsh conditions the displaced population has to endure on the roads. Their health condition can deteriorate rapidly if assistance is not delivered promptly,’ he added.”

“The International Organization for Migration, which is among many agencies responding to the crisis, noted that ‘tracking and assessing the displaced population has been difficult because many people are still on the move or are hiding in the bush. The continued heavy rainfall has made some roads impassable and this has impeded access to areas where IDPs may be sheltering.’”

“‘Longer-term food stability is a major concern,’ added Almagro. ‘This is the planting season and if people are not able to plant [because they are displaced] they will face shortages down the line and will require assistance for a much longer period of time than this lean season, when food from the previous harvest has run out.’”

“‘Most of the roads in Southern Sudan are not passable during the rains and so that will make the movement of food difficult,’ World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Amor Almagro told IRIN.”

The Independent (UK) reports:

“On a visit to Turalei yesterday, the top US official in southern Sudan, Barrie Walkley, said there was a ‘perfect storm’ creating a humanitarian crisis. Sudan’s north is blockading border crossings, preventing food and fuel from getting to the south. Militias are attacking southern forces, and the northern army displaced tens of thousands of people by invading Abyei, he said.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/perfect-storm-creates-humanitarian-crisis-in-sudan-2290169.html )

Khartoum continues to block fuel deliveries to the South, critical for transportation. The rainy season has begun; tens of thousands of people may soon be unreachable. A great many will die.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] I am indebted for the earlier parts of this historical timeline to the work of several historians of Sudan, preeminently Douglas Johnson (see his “The Road Back from Abyei,” January 2011, http://www.humansecuritygateway.com/showRecord.php?RecordId=34970 ).

[2] Douglas Johnson was a member of the Abyei Boundaries Commission; see his superb overview of the work of his Commission and his compelling reading of the language of the Abyei Protocol (“The Abyei Protocol Demystified,” Sudan Tribune, December 10, 2007, http://www.sudantribune.com/The-Abyei-Protocol-Demystified,25125 ).

[3] See a powerful, contemporaneous eyewitness account by Roger Winter (“Abyei Aflame: An Update from the Field,” May 30, 2008, http://www.enoughproject.org/publications/abyei-aflame-update-field-0 ):

“[Abyei town] was empty. You could look the full length of streets and see no one. I counted only 10-12 civilians, several of whom appeared to be mentally unstable. The others, sneaking back to where their homes once stood, were evidently attempting to salvage any remaining blankets or belongings. The market had been looted and burned to the ground. Many structures were still smoldering. Block after block of traditional homes were reduced to ashes. Approximately 25 percent of the town’s structures were totally destroyed. Shortly after our visit, we received reliable reports that most of the rest was aflame.”

[4] A peevish Mbeki lashed out at those who had criticized him and his approach to North/South negotiations, particularly on the matter of Abyei. Mbeki suggested that worries about Abyei and the border with South Kordofan are somehow the product of those who “do not wish Sudan well”:

“And yet, the more the people of Sudan have communicated these messages [concerning the referendum] in unequivocal terms, those who do not wish Sudan well, have grown ever more strident in their propagation of their scenarios of gloom and doom. We are very happy that their ill-advised expectations will be disappointed as the leaders and people of Sudan honour their solemn undertakings and do what is right for them and the rest of Africa.” (Speech in Juba on January 8, 2011, the day before referendum voting began)

Mbeki has few rivals for foolishness in his pronouncement on Sudanese matters.