“Extending the Timeline for Abyei: May 27 June 3, 2011”
A UN internal report suggests “ethnic cleansing”; an already acute humanitarian crisis deepens as fuel for aid operations continues to be blocked by Khartoum; there is no meaningful diplomatic progress, even as the military threat to the Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile grows; the UN Security Council “strongly condemns” Khartoum’s invasion of Abyei and “demands” that the regime “withdraw immediately from the Abyei area.” The Council “further demands the immediate withdrawal of all military elements from Abyei,” and “calls on the Sudanese Armed Forces to ensure an immediate halt to all looting, burning and illegal resettlement.”
June 3, 2011
This timeline extends a previous, more historical effort (“An Abyei Timeline: The Long Road to Khartoum’s Military Invasion,” May 27, 2011 at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article328.html ). The present account treats only the period from May 27 to June 3, but during this extraordinary week a great deal has occurred, even without significant new military developments. Charges of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and war crimes have come from various quarters; reports on the humanitarian conditions in the Abyei region and Warrap, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Unity states in South Sudan are highly alarming. Khartoum seems determined not to withdraw its military forces from Abyei or to yield to any diplomatic overture from the South or the international community; as a consequence there is no prospect of the many tens of thousands of Dinka Ngok returning to the homes and land from which they have been violently displaced—unless the UN Security Council is serious about its “demands,” a doubtful proposition.
The immediate military threat to the Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile has diminished while the senior U.S. counter-terrorism official, John Brennan, has been in the region, including in Khartoum. But the threat already issued has not been withdrawn: on May 24 President al-Bashir declared that his army will respond “aggressively” to “provocations” by the SPLA and told Khartoum radio that he has given the “green light” to his forces to “respond to any violations” committed by the SPLA. He has insistently reiterated that “Abyei is North Sudanese landour armed forces will not withdraw from this land.” He has also declared that Khartoum is “prepared for a new war.”
On May 31, Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) spokesperson Al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad echoed earlier warnings that the regime in Khartoum had given the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) until June 1 to withdraw all troops from the Nuba and southern Blue Nile. Most SPLA troops in these regions consider themselves to be in their native region, and will not easily be disarmed, especially in the Nuba. Extremely bloody conflict looms, and may extend into the South and Unity State, where the most lucrative oil sites are located. Despite the impressive restraint shown to date by the Government of South Sudan (GOSS)—President Salva Kiir and the GOSS leadership—there can be little doubt that a military incursion into the South by the SAF would precipitate renewed civil war at the very moment in which South Sudan is scheduled to become an independent country.
An overview of recent events, up to May 27 (roughly one quarter of the present text):
By May 21 the military seizure of all of Abyei, including Abyei town, is largely completed. The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) reports (May 24) on the details of the invasion revealed by satellite photography, including Khartoum’s use of military air assets. (http://goo.gl/F9Zx4 )
May 24: Reports begin to emerge of widespread “organized looting” and destruction of Abyei town by Misseriya militia members, assisted by SAF soldiers. SSP ground 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 satellite photography as well as ground photography from Abyei town. Both humanitarian food stores and medical supplies are among the targets of the looters, as UN IRIN reports (May 27, 2011):
“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.” (http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=92832 )
May 25: The New York Times reports in its lead paragraph on Abyei:
“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) (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/26/world/africa/26sudan.html?_r=2 )
This is the first of several accusations of “ethnic cleansing,” including one made in a confidential UN internal assessment, first reported by the Associated Press on June 3 (http://goo.gl/RnLwB ). The SSP also reports that, “there are indications of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Abyei” (May 29).
May 26: The 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 (May 26) 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 )
Reports of highly distressed fleeing civilians, primarily women and children, become increasingly frequent and urgent. Many have left with almost nothing; all are at acute risk of dehydration, malnutrition, and water-borne diseases. Many were killed in the military seizure of Abyei; others have died on the way south.
A great many have fled as far as Turelei, 130 kilometers from Abyei; by May 26 one humanitarian report has 15,000 displaced people living in the open near the town (local officials 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:
“‘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.'” (http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=92832 )
The Independent (UK) reports on May 28:
“On a visit to Turalei yesterday, the top U.S. 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://goo.gl/NIuI9 )
The figure for displaced persons rises steadily, and is approximately 80,000 by June 3.
(begin) Timeline for Abyei: May 27 June 3, 2011
May 27: Concerns about the effects of seasonal rains, which are already heavy, mount steadily; IRIN reports:
“Seasonal rains are among several factors to have exacerbated the crisis sparked by the sudden flight of tens of thousands of civilians from the disputed Sudanese region of Abyei, say aid workers, who point to both short- and long-term repercussions. ‘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 same dispatch also reported:
“‘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.'” (http://irinnews.org/PrintReport.aspx?ReportID=92832 )
Radio Netherlands reports on two UN casualties from Khartoum’s invasion of Abyei:
“According to an anonymous diplomatic source in Abyei, the attack on the town by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF or ‘Northern army’) was a complete surprise. Several mortar or tank shells have hit the compound during the attack, of which four exploded. Two Egyptian soldiers were injured and one UN vehicle was damaged.”
May 28: The Satellite Sentinel Project reports on the “Intentional Destruction of Abyei Town”:
“Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has confirmed through the analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery collected on 27 May the intentional destruction of approximately one-third of all civilian structures in Abyei town by the Government of Sudan and northern-aligned militia forces. SSP has documented multiple violations of international humanitarian law in Abyei town. These abuses can constitute war crimes, including violations of the Geneva Conventions, and in some cases they ***may represent crimes against humanity***.” (emphasis added)
SSP is able to confirm Khartoum’s destruction of Banton Bridge, a key link between South Sudan and Abyei across the River Kiir/Bahr el Arab. A detailed account of the violations of international law represented by the photographic evidence (ground and satellite) is also provided by SSP.
May 29: Save the Children/UK estimates that “up to 35,000 children in Sudan’s contested border region of Abyei are among the displaced. Deng Arop, the chief southern official for the Abyei area, “fears that unless the fuel crisis is resolved quickly, the rains will turn the roads to mud, and it will be impossible to deliver relief supplies. ‘In a worst-case scenario, the bulk of the displaced will be cut off, ‘ he said. ‘At that point, it will be very difficult to get them humanitarian assistance.'”
The lack of fuel is a recurring theme in accounts from UN agencies and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations. Khartoum has since the beginning of May closed off two of the three routes to the region by which fuel is transported to the South and Abyei (South Sudan has no refining capacity of its own, even as the vast majority of crude oil refined by Khartoum originates in the South).
May 30: High-level talks between senior officials from Khartoum and Juba fail to make any progress on Abyei as the NIF/NCP regime refuses to consider military withdrawal from the contested region.
May 31: The danger to those displaced from Abyei into Warrab State is unrelenting. Those who gathered at Agok have been attacked and fled further south; some have returned, but their situation is extremely tenuous. The UN High Commission for Refugees reports:
“‘The UN team (that visited last week) saw a stream of civilians heading south towards and past Agok,’ Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesman in Geneva, said on Tuesday [May 31]. ‘A number of villages just south of Abyei were burning. Many people feared that Agok itself might soon be attacked,’ he added.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Geneva], May 31, 2011)
Bloomberg News reports:
“Sudan’s army said it may attack any remaining Southern Sudan troops in the northern border states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, heightening tension before the south’s independence in July. ‘In these two states, any remaining southern forces north of the border after June 1 will become legitimate targets,’ Sudanese army spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled said today [May 31].”
Again, a great many SPLA troops are from these two regions, which they consider home.
June 1: Khartoum proposes that an unspecified “African force” replace UNMIS; the regime has already formally declared on May 31 that it will not allow the UN to renew the mandate for UNMIS in northern Sudan. No doubt Khartoum, in proposing such a force, has in mind the crippling weaknesses of the UN/AU “hybrid” force in Darfur (UNAMID). (http://goo.gl/kCM98 )
The African Union, which the previous day (May 31) had celebrated an “agreement” on a demilitarized North/South border, is proved yet again to be capable mainly of wishful thinking. The “agreement,” according to an AU statement, “establishes a Common Border Zone between North and South Sudan, which is to be demilitarised and jointly monitored and patrolled.” But Khartoum quickly made clear that no agreement had in fact been reached, as the Sudan Tribune reported the following day:
“The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan denied reports of a [May 31] agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on establishing a demilitarized zone on the North-South borders. The NCP-SPLM accord was brokered by the African Union High-Level implementation panel (AUHIP) for Sudan headed by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. ‘The agreement paves the way for further negotiations on key security issues between the parties, to be convened by the AU Panel within the week,’ an African Union statement said.”
“However, the NCP media secretary Ibrahim Ghandour downplayed the AU’s announcement, describing what was signed as a plan given to both sides as ***part of many on the table that could form the basis of a framework agreement. Ghandour stressed that the proposals submitted are still being discussed with none being endorsed yet***.” (emphasis added) (http://www.sudantribune.com/Sudan-s-NCP-denies-agreeing-to,39074 )
Such factitious optimism by Mbeki and company only makes meaningful negotiations more difficult.
Also on June 1, the Satellite Sentinel Project declares in a press release:
“A bipartisan group of former civilian and military officials has affirmed the Satellite Sentinel Project’s (SSP) analysis of visual evidence that the Government of Sudan allegedly committed war crimes during its occupation of the disputed region of Abyei. The officials include two former US State Department Special Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes, David Scheffer and Pierre Prosper; David Crane, the former Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; and Michael Newton, the former Senior Advisor to the US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes.” (http://goo.gl/0uLds )
David Scheffer, the distinguished former Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, declares of the actions revealed in SSP photographic evidence: “They may also constitute crimes against humanity given the magnitude and apparent systematic character of destruction and forced displacement of civilians in Abyei.”
Pierre Prosper, also a former Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, “The imagery provided by the Satellite Sentinel Project contains evidence of actions by Sudan Armed Forces that may well constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The predations and destructiveness of Khartoum’s counterinsurgency war in Darfur are several times invoked as precedents for the actions of the Khartoum regime in Abyei.
June 2: A senior Abyei official estimates that approximately 100 civilians were killed following the May 20-21 invasion of the region. This figure does not include the many scores who had been killed in the months preceding the military incursion, nor does it include any mortality among those who have fled into South Sudan. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/02/us-sudan-abyei-idUSTRE7514C120110602 )
In the same dispatch, Reuters reports that Ethiopia will consider sending peacekeeping troops to Abyei in light of the request from Juba and the UN:
“Both Juba [the Government of South Sudan] and the United Nations have asked Ethiopia to send peacekeeping troops to Abyei, but no decisions will be taken unless Khartoum also asks for the forces to be sent, an Ethiopian official told Reuters.”
It is highly unlikely that Khartoum will permit a robust military presence in Abyei so long as it intends to use its own military control of the region as leverage in negotiations with Juba on a range of issues (in addition to the status of Abyei itself, these include border delineation and demarcation, oil revenues, citizenship for Southerners in the North, and division of massive external debt).
June 3: “Ethnic cleansing”—what Samantha Power in writing about Bosnia calls “a kind of euphemistic halfway house between crimes against humanity and genocide” (“A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, page 483 [New York, 2002]). Whatever it means—and it is not a term of art in international law—Khartoum’s actions in Abyei compel us again to make sense of this slippery phrase. Associated Press reports:
“A confidential United Nations report warns that the invasion by Sudan’s military of the contested north-south region of Abyei could lead to ‘ethnic cleansing’ if the tens of thousands of residents who fled are not able to return. The UN human rights report–dated May 29 and marked ‘Not For Public Citation or Distribution’–said the north’s Khartoum government may have carried out a premeditated military plan to invade Abyei when Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, troops moved in May 21.” (http://goo.gl/ryvdK )
The justification for these fears is in large part a function of the immense humanitarian crisis precipitated by the actions in question. The situation is clearly growing more desperate by the day. As of June 1 the UN “estimates [ ] about 76,000 [have been displaced from Abyei and its surrounding villages]. The International Organization for Migration [IOM] has registered about 40,000 of those.” The IOM also declares these people “are in urgent need of food, shelter and sanitation facilities.”
The most comprehensive overview of the humanitarian crisis again comes from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN):
“Warrap State in Southern Sudan is becoming the focus of efforts to assist thousands of people fleeing the disputed central-southern region of Abyei after it was attacked on 21 May by the northern Sudanese army, aid workers say. But the obstacles are considerable: it is the rainy season, many roads are impassable, soldiers have harassed aid workers, fuel is in short supply and it is sometimes difficult to identify who is displaced.”
“‘This operation is facing logistical challenges. In the weeks to come, with the advance of the rainy season, the challenges will become greater,’ said Margherita Coco, who was responsible for the World Food Programme (WFP) sub-office in Abyei until the attack forced WFP to abandon its work there. She now works from Wunrok in Warrap State. On 1 June WFP put the number of registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) at more than 45,000; unofficial estimates indicate there are another 36,000 people on the road still trying to head for safety.” (June 3, 2011) (http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=92885 )
This suggests a total displaced population of over 80,000 human beings, primarily women and children. The IRIN account also gives us some of the first interviews with the survivors of the Abyei invasion, and the threats faced even when fleeing to Agok to the south:
“The initial destination for those fleeing Abyei, mostly in great haste and with few provisions or spare clothing, was Agok-Anet, where they believed they would be safe until Sudanese army bombing forced them out. ‘I was having a rest when I heard the planes,’ said Nyandur Deng, a resident of Agok-Anet. ‘Then I saw people running away so I took my six children and I left. My husband works in Khartoum.’ Most of those fleeing Agok-Anet were women and children, the men staying behind to guard their homes or join Southern army.”
“IDPs in Warrap State are sleeping outside, without shelter, despite it being the rainy season. ‘We need plastic sheeting before food,’ said Nunja, 15, translating for her mother. ‘We’ve been sleeping under a tree since we arrived. We walked for three days. We need rest.'”
The lack of fuel for transportation is rapidly becoming a critical shortcoming in the humanitarian response:
“Another obstacle is the acute shortage of fuel. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), two of the main roads between north and south have been blocked [by Khartoum]. Petrol is imported from the north. ‘We had 200 [liters] of extra fuel when we arrived on site,’ explained Oyukutu Valente, an official with Save the Children. ‘We have just ordered an additional 400 [liters] from the International Organization for Migration [IOM], due to arrive by convoy from Juba.'”
“Agok Hospital, managed by the Swiss branch of Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF), is treating some of the displaced who were unable to keep up. ‘Most are children and the elderly, often abandoned by their families during their flight,’ said Ines Hake, head of an MSF medical team. Patients mainly had dehydration symptoms, diarrhoea or lung infections after spending nights in the rain. Hake expects up to 200 patients a day at the hospital. ‘People first try to [find] shelter and then food,’ explained Raphael Gorge with MSF in Agok. ‘It is only after that that they come in for treatment.'”
The UN Security Council, two weeks after Khartoum’s military invasion began, today brought itself—after much internal squabbling—to “strongly condemn” that action, and make an explicit “demand”:
“‘The council demands that the government of Sudan withdraw immediately from the Abyei area. The council further demands the immediate withdrawal of all military elements from Abyei,’ said the statement. ‘The council calls on the Sudanese Armed Forces to ensure an immediate halt to all looting, burning and illegal resettlement.'” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: UN/New York], June 3, 2011; emphasis added)
Here it may be useful to recall another “demand” the UN Security Council has made of Khartoum, this one concerning Darfur (one of many):
“[The UN Security Council] demands that the government of Sudan fulfill its commitments to disarm the Janjaweed militias [per the terms of the July 3, 2004 Joint Communiqu signed by the regime and Secretary-General Kofi Annan] and bring to justice Janjaweed leaders and their associates.” (UN Security Council resolution 1556, July 30, 2004 [paragraph 6]; emphasis in original)
This “demand” has gone unheeded for seven years, and even now the Janjaweed—often re-cycled into other military or paramilitary guises—continue to attack and destroy civilian villages, destroy foodstocks, kill non-combatant civilians, and rape women and girls.
Khartoum’s military takeover of Abyei will continue to put tens of thousands of civilians at acute risk. They cannot wait seven years for relief. And they are not “collateral damage, ” to use the military euphemism that is so wholly inappropriate here. The displacement of these people from their homes and lands has been deliberate; their possible resettlement is being deliberately forestalled by various regime actions, including the settling of Misseriya Arabs throughout Abyei, making the status of the region a demographic fait accompli.
People are dying and may soon die in large numbers. Whatever “ethnic cleansing” means, presumably this is a conspicuous example.
“An Abyei Timeline: The Long Road to Khartoum’s Military Invasion”
Eric Reeves, Abyei blog update
May 27, 2011
This timeline provides a schematic chronicle of events from 1905 through the Abyei Protocol (2004) to the present , 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.
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 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)
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. 
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.  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 , 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 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 sanding 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.
 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 ).
 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 ).
 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.”
 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.
May 25, 2011
Khartoum’s Military Seizure of Abyei: Findings of the Satellite Sentinel Project
A report today from the Satellite Sentinel Project (below) provides a detailed picture of the military tools of invasion deployed by Khartoum in its May 20/21 seizure of Abyei, including Abyei town. It has long been evident that Khartoum planned a military move on Abyei; the only real question has been when. In many respects, the military assault began in early March and included the destruction of a number of Dinka Ngok villages, and the killing of many civilians and Southern police. Altogether, more than 40,000 people have now been displaced southward into Northern Bahr el Ghazal under extremely threatening conditions.
The New York Times today warns of the threat of large-scale “ethnic cleansing”:
“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 was trying to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the area in a bid to change its demographics permanently and annex the town, Abyei, just weeks before southern Sudan was supposed to split from the north and form its own country.” (“UN Warns of Ethnic Cleansing in Sudan Town [Abyei],” May 25, 2011 [dateline: Nairobi])
This brazen and barbarous ambition has been encouraged by international diplomatic policies of accommodation, most particularly on the part of the Obama administration. To this point in the crisis, no one in the administration has found a suitable register in which to speak about Khartoum’s extraordinary crimes, its violations of international law, and its complete reneging on key terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005).
None of this should come as a surprise. By early May the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime had clearly signaled that it meant to move on Abyei. The weapons, encampments, and troops had all been identified, the attacks by Khartoum-allied militia groups had been reported; and there could be no mistaking the implications of improvements to roads leading south and to the air facility at Muglad (South Kordofan, immediately north of Abyei). Heglig, immediately to the east of Abyei, has seen a particularly large recent military buildup.
The pretext for Khartoum’s military seizure of Abyei has been exposed as merely that; there is no legitimate casus belli. The events of May 19, reported initially by UN officials as “criminal acts” by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, have now been sufficiently clarified that Khartoum’s account of this violent confrontation has become completely untenable. Dismayingly, the initial UN account was based solely on the accounts of the regime’s military officers—officers who were part of a force that was clearly on the verge of invading Abyei. That the attack was premeditated is amply demonstrated by the findings of the Satellite Sentinel Project, reflecting developments going back to January. Among the highlights of this report (including the finding “that the invasion of Abyei was premeditated and well-planned”):
“Reports by Southern Sudanese officials that an allegedly division-sized unit of 5,000 SAF soldiers attacked Abyei over the weekend is consistent with the approximately 10 large, military encampments in SAF-controlled areas of South Kordofan that SSP has identified since January .”
“The approximately 13 T-55 main battle tanks SSP has seen forward deployed and in some cases, concealed within driving range of Abyei in recent months are consistent with the reported 15 T-55 battle tanks allegedly present now in Abyei town.”
“Satellite Sentinel Project reported in March the construction of an on-site refueling facility at the Muglad airstrip, part of the SAF 15th Division headquarters, approximately 180 kilometers from Abyei town. Subsequently, at least two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters were observed at that location. The Project has reported Mi-8 helicopters at this location as well. These developments are consistent with reports received in the past 36 hours of SAF helicopters circling Abyei town.”
“The presence of Antonov transport planes and Nanchang Q-5 aircraft at El Obeid, 440 kilometers from Abyei town, is consistent with reports that the SAF aerially bombarded targets in Abyei, reportedly beginning on 20 May. The Nanchang Q-5s are able to reach Abyei town in approximately 20 minutes. The Antonov transports can fly to Abyei town in under an hour.”
“Abyei Invasion: Evidence of Sudan Armed Forces Incursion Inside Abyei,”
by the Satellite Sentinel Project (May 25, 2011)
Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has confirmed through the analysis of DigitalGlobe imagery that the southern-aligned base at Todach has been recently razed; evidence consistent with an attack on that location by armored vehicles is visible. The southern-aligned base at Tajalei, which was allegedly attacked on 21 May, does not appear to be visibly damaged. The base may have been abandoned by Southern units, however.
Additionally, imagery shows fires burning in the town of Dungop and another point near Abyei town, consistent with reports that buildings are being burned by northern-aligned forces in the Abyei region.
Nanchang Q-5 ground attack aircraft and Antonov transports, which the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) use as bombers, and a Yak-40 transport plane are visible at the SAF El Obeid airbase. Each plane is easily within striking distance of Abyei town and can all reach targets in Abyei region in approximately an hour or less. The presence of these attack capable planes in close proximity to Abyei is consistent with reports of SAF bombing attacks in Abyei within the past five days.
At one base near Goli, which SSP had previously identified as an alleged armed Misseriya encampment, the tents that had previously been visible there are no longer present. This image is consistent with reports that armed Misseriya have voluntarily moved from their recent positions to points south, including Abyei town. Satellite Sentinel Project has seen over 40 new structures erected at SAF base Heglig as of 13 May and new vehicles, including three consistent with armored units, are clearly visible. Four main battle tanks consistent with T-55s are visible at Kharassana as of 20 May.
With less than two months remaining before South Sudan becomes an independent state, North and South Sudan are on the brink of renewed civil war following the Sudan Armed Forces’ (SAF) occupation of Abyei town and surrounding areas in the contested Abyei region of Sudan. On 19 May, soldiers from the Southern Sudanese police or military forces are accused by the North of having ambushed a convoy of SAF elements of Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) and their UNMIS escorts within the Abyei Administrative Area.
In response, the SAF allegedly bombed several villages in the Abyei region that were reportedly controlled by southern-aligned forces, as well as the main bridge providing access to areas south of Abyei. On 21 May, the SAF seized control of Abyei town. As of 24 May, the burned and looted town of Abyei is still under SAF control, despite pressure from the international community for northern troops to withdraw from the area. The escalation of violence over the past five days has displaced at least 25,000 to 30,000 civilians from Abyei town and the surrounding areas, according to the UN.
Six fixed-wing aircraft are visible at the SAF airbase at El Obeid, approximately 440 kilometers from Abyei town. The planes include two consistent with Nanchang Q-5 ground attack aircraft, two consistent with Antonov An-24/26 Coke/Curls (one of which appears decommissioned), and an Antonov An-12 Cub.
Except for one structure in the center of the suspected Misseriya militia encampment at Goli, all structures previously observed at the location are gone as of 24 May. Light vehicles seen at that site are gone as well. There is no damage visible. As of 24 May, the Southern-aligned Tajalei encampment shows no visible signs of damage, burned structures, or evidence consistent with recent combat having taken place there. Vehicles are not visible at the base, nor is there apparent evidence of either new or missing structures.
Imagery shows that an additional 40 structures were erected at the Heglig encampment between 24 April and 13 May. Additionally, three vehicles consistent with armored vehicles are present, as well as an additional six light and heavy vehicles.
The image of the SAF base at Kharassana shows the presence of four armored vehicles consistent with T-55 main battle tanks. Four objects along the perimeter wall of the facility were removed sometime between 14 March and 20 May.
The image of Todach confirms reports that the Southern-aligned base was attacked by SAF forces on 20/21 May. The presence of possible tank tracks on the ground and armored vehicles in the vicinity suggests that an attack by tanks or other armored units occurred. Possible craters — potentially a result of tank, aerial, and/or artillery bombardment — appear visible.
The presence of Antonov transport planes and Nanchang Q-5 aircraft at El Obeid, 440 kilometers from Abyei town, is consistent with reports that the SAF aerially bombarded targets in Abyei, reportedly beginning on 20 May. The Nanchang Q-5s are able to reach Abyei town in approximately 20 minutes. The Antonov transports can fly to Abyei town in under an hour.
The absence of all vehicles and all structures except one from the suspected Misseriya militia camp at Goli is consistent with reports that armed Misseriya have voluntarily moved from their recent positions into Abyei town and the vicinity.
The Southern-aligned base at Tajalei, which SAF allegedly attacked on 21 May, appears to have likely been abandoned due to the fact that there is no damage visible at that location, but Southern-aligned forces reportedly no longer control that area.
The rapid build-up of SAF forces at the suspected SAF base at Heglig on May 13, including armored vehicles and both light and heavy trucks, suggests apparent preparations for imminent operations approximately a week before the SAF invasion of Abyei. SSP monitoring of the Kharassana site suggests that the four objects previously visible along the base’s perimeter were armored vehicles concealed at that location. The four tanks consistent with T-55 armored vehicles may or may not be the tanks allegedly concealed at that position. The Kharassana image is evidence of potential SAF concealment of vehicles in South Kordofan prior to the 21 May incursion into Abyei.
Overview | 24 May 2011
Since January 2011, Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has monitored the rapid, robust and concerted offensive build-up of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Popular Defense Force (PDF) militias in and around the Abyei region. The SAF invasion of Abyei on 21 May 2011, with the exception of fixed-wing fighter aircraft, appears to have been comprised primarily of the forces SSP has been tracking since it was launched on 29 December 2010.
The ongoing attack is wholly consistent with the strengthening of SAF capabilities reported by SSP over the past four months in the area. Sudan Armed Forces troop strength, infrastructure improvements, and positioning of forces along main roads under 200 kilometers from Abyei are indications that the invasion of Abyei was premeditated and well-planned.
Observations from previous SSP reporting relevant to the current SAF combat action in Abyei include the following:
Troops and Transport Vehicles
Reports by Southern Sudanese officials that an allegedly division-sized unit of 5,000 SAF soldiers attacked Abyei over the weekend is consistent with the approximately 10 large, military encampments in SAF-controlled areas of South Kordofan that SSP has identified since January. These bases range in size, but could hold at least 100 to 200 troops each. In some cases, they could be capable of holding approximately 500 troops or more. In total, SSP has seen a deployment around Abyei in recent months consistent with the alleged force strength purportedly inside Abyei town and the surrounding area at present.
Additionally, light and heavy vehicles consistent with escort and troop transport vehicles have been seen over the past four months at these locations. In some locations, SSP has identified vehicles consistent with armored personnel carriers (APCs).
Presence of PDF Militias in Abyei
Beginning in March 2011, SSP identified two encampments inside the Abyei region consistent with reports that northern-aligned, armed Misseriya militia groups had set up bases inside Abyei at Goli and Bongo (also known as Alal), among other locations. Local officials have accused personnel at those camps of participating in the razing earlier prepared by this year of villages inside Abyei, including Maker Abior, Todach, and Tajalei. News reports from Abyei on 23 May allege that Misseriya militias are looting and razing buildings in Abyei town and the vicinity.
The approximately 13 T-55 main battle tanks SSP has seen forward deployed and in some cases, concealed within driving range of Abyei in recent months are consistent with the reported 15 T-55 battle tanks allegedly present now in Abyei town.
The presence of mobile artillery with corresponding vehicles capable of transporting artillery in at least three locations within 100 kilometers of Abyei over the past four months is consistent with reports of SAF shelling inside the Abyei region.
Rapid construction of heavy, all-weather roads to the north and northeast of Abyei, which SSP reported in recent weeks, likely facilitated the SAF’s incursion into Abyei. These roads more easily connect major SAF bases, including those where tanks have been seen, to the routes leading to Abyei.
Helicopter Basing and Refueling
Satellite Sentinel Project reported in March the construction of an on-site refueling facility at the Muglad airstrip, part of the SAF 15th Division headquarters, approximately 180 kilometers from Abyei town. Subsequently, at least two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters were observed at that location. The Project has reported Mi-8 helicopters at this location as well. These developments are consistent with reports received in the past 36 hours of SAF helicopters circling Abyei town.
May 24, 2011
“Renewed War Looms in Sudan, as the International Community Prevaricates”
Dissent Magazine (on-line), May 24, 2011 http://dissentmagazine.org/atw.php?id=457
War reignited in South Sudan on May 19, 2011. The Khartoum regime, which has been building a massive offensive military capability in and around the hotly contested Abyei region for months, used a confusingly reported confrontation on this day to launch a full-scale invasion of Abyei; the regime’s forces now control the entire region, including Abyei town in the far south. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in this and previous military incursions by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and its militia proxies; according to Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian observers, tens of thousands of the indigenous Dinka Ngok have fled to the South (Twic County in Lakes State). Many are in great peril, especially from dehydration. Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN, characterized the aftermath of the brutal assault today from Juba (South Sudan): “There have been horrific reports of looting and burning [in Abyei], there are large numbers of displaced moving south in what [are] by definition dangerous circumstances” (http://goo.gl/eRoXu ).
The UN and United States have, appropriately, condemned the military seizure of land that will belong to the South if a free and fair self-determination referendum for Abyei is ever held, as stipulated in the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But Khartoum is now declaring that Abyei is “northern” and has always been so—and President Omar al-Bashir today belligerently declared that it always will be (http://goo.gl/x9mna ). This creates an untenable military confrontation between the heavily armed and equipped SAF, along with their militia allies, and the more modestly armed but highly motivated Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Without more robust diplomatic intervention, larger-scale war seems highly likely.
Despite the Abyei Protocol (2004) that was a key part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), despite the findings of the Abyei Boundaries Commission created by the Abyei Protocol, and despite a “final and binding” ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (2009)—all making clear that the Ngok people of Abyei had the right to join the South—Khartoum is intent on denying this right of self-determination, despite its commitment to all these agreements and findings. It had previously used a variety of means to forestall the self-determination referendum that was scheduled for January 9, 2011; it has now used military force.
There is a key question in understanding recent developments: what intelligence served as the basis for the UN’s swift condemnation of the SPLA for “criminal acts” at a military confrontation in the village of Dokora (or Dokra) on May 19? Since this attack was immediately made the casus belli for Khartoum’s invasion of Abyei, we need to make sure we understand the precipitating event.
Although we still do not have all the details of the May 19 clash between an SPLA unit and a contingent of some 200 SAF troops under escort by the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan (UNMIS), the following account—from a very well-placed and highly reliable source—has a great deal more plausibility than the account the UN has chosen to act upon. In fact, the authority of the UN narrative is highly suspect.
UN political officials in New York were first informed of the events at Dokora by Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy for Sudan (SGSR), Haile Menkerios of Eritrea. Menkerios has not been particularly effective in this role since he was appointed in February 2010, and has been only fitfully engaged on critical issues. During his relatively brief tenure he has developed a reputation for instinctively siding with Khartoum over Juba.
Menkerios’ account of the events of May 19 apparently came exclusively from two SAF officers—in short, representatives of one of the combatant parties. If their account of the events was taken at face value, then the SGSR will have laid the groundwork for an extraordinarily misguided UN condemnation of the SPLA for “criminal acts,” which in turn provided Khartoum with a plausible casus belli. This is a major diplomatic disaster, although we may expect the UN to close ranks around one of its own, however disastrously consequential his errors.
So what really happened? Several days before the May 19 clash (again, according to a source that is both highly reliable and especially well placed), soldiers from an SPLA “Joint Integrated Unit” (JIU) were ambushed in Abyei by a Misseriya militia, an attack that left four SPLA soldiers dead. (The “Joint Integrated Units” of SAF and SPLA forces were created by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement but have never functioned as designed—indeed, they have never really been either “joint” or “integrated,” and recently they have become a major irritant between the two armed forces.) There had been a number of attacks on SPLA troops and police prior to this event, and tensions were extremely high.
Following this incident of May 15, the SPLA and SAF agreed that the SAF JIU forces would be stationed further north in Abyei at Goli and another nearby town. The SPLA JIU would be stationed in Dokora in the south of Abyei, several miles north of Abyei town. The parties further agreed that the SAF would escort the SPLA units to their location, and the SPLA would later escort the SAF units to their location.
Immediately prior to the fighting of May 19, the SPLA units began to argue among themselves about the wisdom of escorting the SAF, given the recent attack they had suffered at the hands of SAF-allied Misseriya militia, and the well-known presence of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) militia in Abyei and South Kordofan, and in the town of Goli in particular. At one point a single bullet was fired in the air. Immediately the SAF began to fire on the SPLA with enormously destructive anti-tank weapons (RPG-7s). A number of Dinka Ngok civilians were killed, as were a number of SAF soldiers, when one of their troop-carrying trucks was accidentally hit by one of the RPGs—in short, a case of so-called “friendly fire.”
This is not the narrative of a “criminal act” on the part of the SPLA. That SGSR Menkerios would represent the clash to the UN in New York in such terms was deeply irresponsible and extraordinarily consequential. He should be immediately relieved of his position, and a serious evaluation of reporting mechanisms needs to be undertaken as soon as possible.
It also is intensely dismaying that the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, should still be making statements on the basis of the Menkerios account: “There was an incident on May 19th in which Southern forces attacked a UN convoy [emphasis added] that was carrying Northern soldiers to the town called Goli” (http://www.state.gov/s/sudan/rem/2011/164107.htm ).
To be sure, Lyman is firm in his condemnation of Khartoum’s use of the incident to seize all of Abyei militarily, and makes clear that the status quo will not satisfy U.S. demands that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement be fully respected. But Lyman also continues with a narrative that at this point has been very seriously challenged by the SPLM/A political and military leadership. The nature of the “attack” seems very much in question, and we should not forget that Khartoum, vastly superior in positioned offensive military forces, has clearly been looking for a pretext to launch its invasion of Abyei. Lyman even has gone so far as to claim the SPLM/A has “apologized” for their actions. They have not, as was confirmed to me on May 24 by senior officials in Juba. Such statements are ultimately a form of deference to Khartoum in the face of extreme, large-scale, and unjustified military actions. Indeed, the regime has begun to embellish upon the consequences of the initial confrontation: the regime’s ambassador to Kenya has declared that 197 SAF troops were killed or missing as a result of the May 19 events—a preposterous exaggeration (http://goo.gl/SWoGF ). According to well-informed senior SPLA commanders, they lost eighteen men and the SAF seven.
A policy of accommodation is not the road to peace, or the basis for compelling a military withdrawal by the regime from Abyei. Indeed, such accommodation convinces the SPLM leadership that they are alone in confronting this military occupation of Abyei—which now includes wholesale looting and burning, as well as violence against civilians, all reminiscent of the brutal May 2008 attack on Abyei town by the infamous SAF 31st Brigade (http://goo.gl/iIvqG ). At the time, the world stood by and simply watched—UNMIS from very close range. History must not repeat itself, or full-scale war will come. This is an extremely dangerous situation that grows more dangerous by the hour.
[For a scalable, highly detailed map of Abyei, see http://howpdf.com/ebook/agany-pdf.html ]
May 23, 2011, 6pm—Abyei blog
What Occurred in the Clash at Dokura (Abyei), Thursday, May 19, 2011?
What intelligence served as the basis for such hasty UN condemnation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) for “criminal acts”?
Although we still do not have all the details of the May 19 clash between an SPLA unit and a contingent of some 200 Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) troops under UNMIS escort, the following account—from a very well placed and highly reliable source—has a great deal more plausibility than the account the UN has acted upon. In fact, the authority of the UN narrative is highly suspect.
UN political officials in New York were informed of the events at Dokura by Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy for Sudan (SGSR), Haile Menkerios of Eritrea. Menkerios has received poor marks during his fifteen months in office (he was appointed in February 2010), and seems only fitfully engaged on critical issues. Menkerios reportedly did not want the job, and was persuaded to take it only on the condition that his stint be relatively short. During his tenure he has developed a reputation for instinctively siding with Khartoum over Juba.
Menkerios’ account of the events of May 19 is reported to have come exclusively from two SAF officers—in short, representatives of one of the combatant parties. If indeed their concoction of events was taken at face value, this is deeply revealing of Menkerios’ general attitude. But in this case, the SGSR will have laid the groundwork for an extraordinarily misguided UN condemnation of the SPLA for “criminal acts,” which condemnation in turn provided Khartoum with a plausible casus belli.
This is a major diplomatic disaster, although we may expect the UN to close ranks around one of its own, however disastrously consequential his errors.
So what really happened? Again according to a source that is both highly reliable and especially well-placed, there is a very different set of facts and circumstances. Several days before the May 19 clash, soldiers from an SPLA “Joint Integrated Unit” (JIU) were ambushed in Abyei by Misseriya militia, an attack that left four SPLA soldiers dead.
Following this incident of May 15, the SPLA and SAF agreed that the SAF JIU would be stationed further north in Abyei at Goli and another town (notably, Goli has served as a forward military base for the PDF militia); the SPLA JIU would be stationed in Dokora (Dokra) in the south of Abyei, about five kilometers north of Abyei town. The parties further agreed that the SAF would escort the SPLA units to their location, and the SPLA would later escort the SAF units to their location.
Immediately prior to the fighting, the SPLA units began to argue among themselves about the wisdom of escorting the SAF, given the recent attack they had suffered at the hands of SAF-allied Misseriya militia, and the well known presence of Popular Defense Forces (PDF) militia in Abyei and South Kordofan, and Goli in particular. At one point a single bullet was fired in the air. Immediately the SAF began to fire on the SPLA with anti-tank weapons (RPG-7s), an enormously destructive weapon. A number of Dinka Ngok civilians were killed, as were a number of SAF soldiers when one of their troop-carrying trucks was accidentally hit by one of the RPG’s—in short, a case of so-called “friendly fire.”
This is not the narrative of a “criminal act” on the part of the SPLA. That Menkerios would represent the clash in such one-sided terms was deeply irresponsible, and in the event, extraordinarily consequential. He should be immediately relieved of his position, and a serious evaluation of reporting mechanisms needs to be undertaken as soon as possible.
It is intensely dismaying that US special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, should still be making statements on the basis of the Menkerios account: “There was an incident on May 19th in which ***Southern forces attacked a UN convoy*** that was carrying Northern soldiers to the town called Goli. And ***that convoy was attacked***” (May 23, 2011, special briefing by Princeton Lyman, special envoy for Sudan, Washington, DC at http://www.state.gov/s/sudan/rem/2011/164107.htm; emphasis added). To be sure, Lyman is firm in his condemnation of Khartoum’s use of the incident to seize all of Abyei militarily, and makes clear that the status quo will not satisfy U.S. demands that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement be fully respected. But Lyman also continues with a narrative that at this point has been very seriously challenged, and the nature of the “attack” is very much in question. This is ultimately a form of deference to Khartoum, an act of appeasement in the face of extreme, large-scale, and unjustified military actions.
This is not the road to peace, or a military withdrawal by the regime from Abyei. Indeed, it convinces the SPLM leadership that they are alone in confronting this military occupation of Abyei—which now includes wholesale looting and burning, as well as civilian intimidation and abuse, all reminiscent of the May 2008 attack on Abyei by the infamous SAF 31st Brigade (http://goo.gl/woyn0 ). This is an extremely dangerous situation that grows more dangerous by the hour.
[For the text of the Abyei Protocol (2004) that is a linchpin of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (2005), see http://www.sudantribune.com/Protocol-between-GoS-and-SPLM-on,3134 ]
[For the text of the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on Abyei (July 2009), see http://www.pca-cpa.org/showpage.asp?pag_id=1306 ]
[For a scalable, highly detailed map of Abyei, see http://avidpdf.com/ebook/agany-pdf.html ]
May 22, 2011
“‘Abyei is located in north Sudan and will remain in north Sudan,’ President Omar al-Bashir, while campaigning for fellow war criminal Ahmed Haroun in South Kordofan State.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], April 27, 2011)
Why has the international community failed to take seriously this declaration by the head of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime? How could the meaning of these words be unclear in the context of a massive, exceedingly well-documented offensive military buildup in recent months, just north of Abyei and within Abyei itself? This buildup has been fully evident and clearly pointed to the resumption of major military hostilities in Abyei; that these hostilities happened to begin on May 19, 2011 is simply fortuitous; we have had many indications of Khartoum’s military ambition in the region going back over a year (see references below).
Whatever happened on May 19, 2011 to initiate hostilities, this spark of an event—however imperfectly we can know it at this moment—has been insufficiently considered by those so quick to condemn the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The result has been to encourage Khartoum to believe that its version of these events will be taken as accurate and a credible casus belli. Certainly Khartoum is at war in Abyei, and has no hesitation in declaring as much:
“Sadiq Amir, the highest military spokesperson of the Sudanese Armed Forces announced at a press conference today that Abyei officially is a war-zone. ‘The war is on full fledged, there are casualties, wounded, refugees and fires. If you want me to say, Abyei is a holiday destination, I will say, Abyei is a holiday destination. ***But the reality is that it is a war zone and it has to be a war zone***.” (Radio Dabanga, May 22, 2011; emphasis added)
Reports so far are incomplete but indicate that an SPLA unit was stationed near Dokura (also Dokra)—about 10 kilometers north of Abyei town—and that a single soldier from this unit fired his weapon (an AK-47?) on a unit of some 200 Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) personnel while under escort by the feckless UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMIS). This was not a unit command or decision, nor did it reflect an order from further up the chain of command. We don’t know the motive of this one soldier: mental or emotional imbalance? was he confused, or perhaps deranged in pursuit of vengeance against those who killed his family members? working as a paid provocateur for Khartoum? The latter is certainly well within the realm of possibility, especially given the immediate intensity of the SAF armed response: reports so far indicate repeated firing of powerful RPG-7s (an anti-tank weapon), which reportedly killed a number of civilians.
The initial UNMIS report suggested two SAF wounded and one UNMIS personnel wounded. Khartoum instantly claimed that the real figure was 22 SAF troops killed, a figure sufficiently large that it could be used to define a threshold for military intervention in Abyei. More reliable sources suggest between 10 and 20 casualties on each side; this may change if UNMIS investigates promptly, but it has already been three days since the event, and whatever access to Abyei and South Kordofan UNMIS might have had has disappeared entirely. Khartoum has virtually total military control of the entire region, including Abyei town, which is being patrolled by 15 main battle tanks (probably among those reported earlier by the Satellite Sentinel Project at Kharassana and elsewhere very near the border between Abyei and South Kordofan).
Significantly, results for the race for governor of South Kordofan were also announced last week, and the election of indicted war criminal Ahmed Haroun was expertly managed by the regime’s “National Election Commission” (the head of the South Kordofan State High Commission on Elections reportedly fled to the UN, given the nature of the vote rigging). Shamefully, the result was promptly and incompetently ratified by the Carter Center (Atlanta). The Carter Center Report (CCR) proved itself uninformed in critical areas and failed to answer key questions about the tabulation of the final vote, which initially showed the SPLM/A candidate (Abdel Aziz el-Hilu) up by more than 15,000 votes—a comfortable margin, given the turnout. Even more seriously, the political background to the election within the report was negligible, even as the election was deeply politicized, particularly by Khartoum with its revealing choice of Haroun. The CCR is even less adequate in characterizing the military realities of South Kordofan and Abyei. (See my May 20, 2011 critique of the CCR at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article325.html .)
It is still possible that Khartoum has taken these military actions in order to strengthen its final bargaining position on Abyei’s boundaries and other key unresolved North/South issues (external debt, sharing of oil revenues, and other border disputes, involving nearly 20 percent of the 2,100-kilometer border). But the SPLA has been pushed militarily as far as it can go, and indeed beyond. If the international community doesn’t recognize the foolishness of its rush to judgment about the meaning of the May 19 clash, if it doesn’t see how brazenly Khartoum has taken military advantage of this incident to mount a long-planned offensive, the Southern leadership will have little choice but to consider how it may best defend itself. UNMIS has proved worthless.
Moreover, if we are to consider provocations, which Khartoum would have the world believe are all on the side of the SPLA, let’s recall what was reported—and confirmed—just over two months ago about the actions of the SAF and its PDF and Misseriya militia allies:
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and other humanitarian organizations reported that “tens of thousands” of Ngok Dinka civilians (primarily women and children) had fled southward from Abyei town in the wake of widespread killings and the destruction of Ngok villages (http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/press/release.cfm?id=5079&cat=press-release ). Serious fighting occurred in Todach on February 27 28, in which many were killed (Todach is approximately 15 kilometers north of Abyei town). Maker Abior was also attacked by militia forces, and at least 33 Southern police (“Juba Police”) were killed on March 2. There was been fighting in Noong as well. Altogether, more than 100 civilians and police had been killed by the end of March. Satellite imagery at the time confirmed the complete destruction of Todach (February 28/March 1), Maker Abior (March 3) to the northwest of Abyei down, and still later the larger village of Tagelei to the northeast (March 5)—all burned to the ground (http://www.satsentinel.org/ ). (For a scalable and highly detailed map of Abyei, see http://avidpdf.com/ebook/agany-pdf.html .)
These military assaults and provocations should be considered in light of the repeated, confirmed aerial attacks on South Sudan in the run-up to the Southern self-determination referendum (January 9, 2011). Attacks in Western and Northern Bahr el Ghazal were reported on November 11, 12, and 24, 2010; December 6 and 8, 2010; and January 10, 2011. Attacks were by both Antonov bombers and MiG jet air-to-ground combat aircraft.
[For a complete account, see the data spreadsheet in my recent report: (www.sudanbombing.org ]
One thing we may be sure of: that while the international community dithers, disingenuously suggests equal responsibility lies with both parties, issues condemnations without consequences, and makes “demands” that Khartoum regards with unmitigated contempt, the military crisis in Abyei deepens. The status quo is unsustainable, and full-scale war is virtually upon South Sudan, less than two months before its independence.
For the best account of Abyei’s recent political history, see Douglas Johnson’s exceedingly well-informed, “The Road Back from Abyei,” January 15, 2011 (http://www.scribd.com/doc/47326561/The-Road-Back-from-Abyei-link )
For the most comprehensive accounts of Khartoum’s military build-up in Abyei and South Kordofan, including the Nuba Mountains, see:
 Julie Flint, “The Nuba Mountains: Central to Sudan’s Stability” (Pax Christi, January 2011; at http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=24931 )
This extremely useful report is based on extensive recent interviews in the region and provides an excellent history of the Nuba, particularly in the period following the signing of the CPA in January 2005 (including the fate of “popular consultations”).
 Small Arms Survey: numerous highly authoritative publications on military developments in Abyei and South Kordofan (http://goo.gl/D5iTK )
 Satellite Sentinel Project: several key reports, based on satellite photography, revealing Khartoum’s developing military offensive (http://www.satsentinel.org/ )
Eric Reeves, previous analyses of Abyei, largely based on the above reports:
[a] “Khartoum’s Language on Abyei Becomes More Insistent, More Threatening,” South Sudan News Agency, May 3, 2011
[b] “Obama Weak on the Rapidly Escalating Crisis in Abyei (Sudan),”
Dissent Magazine (on-line), March 9, 2011
[c] “Abyei in Flames: Prospects for Peace Endangered by Diplomatic Incompetence,” South Sudan News Agency, March 8, 2011
[d] “Celebrate Independence for South Sudan! But Remain Vigilant on Abyei,” South Sudan News Agency, January 14, 2011
[e] “Encouraging Khartoum: South Sudan Victimized by ‘Moral Equivalence,'” The Sudan Tribune, December 21, 2010
[f] “Compromising with Khartoum: Abyei and the Perils of Accommodation,” Dissent Magazine (on-line), November 26, 2010
The Sudan Tribune, November 26, 2010
South Sudan News Agency, November 26, 2010