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Khartoum’s army controls Abyei

· The disputed region with South Sudan ·

This weekend, the Sudanese army claimed that it had ended its military operation in the oil region of Abyei, an area disputed with South Sudan. The week-long heavy offensive was condemned by the United Nations Security Council as a patent violation of the peace agreement of January 9, 2005 which ended the more than twenty-year conflict with South Sudan. Sudanese state news agency, Suna , citing military forces, reported Saturday night that the armed forces announced the end of their operations, “given that they had full control of the area.”

The assignment of Abyei had been postponed at the signing of the peace agreement of January 9, 2005 pending further negotiations. A referendum was due to be held amongst the populations of the region last January, at the same time as the referendum which voted for the independence of South Sudan, which will be formally proclaimed on July 9. Disagreements between the two sides and the people of Abyei blocked the referendum to establish whether the region should remain with Khartoum or become part of South Sudan.

Khartoum’s decision to resort to force has placed a heavy toll on the rest of negotiations between the two sides, especially economically, since relations have been immediately interrupted. However, the South Sudanese President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, declared that there will not be an armed response.

In addition, even before Khartoum’s armed intervention in Abyei, various leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement– formed by ex-rebels who today are leaders in the South Sudanese government of Juba – had accused Khartoum authorities of enforcing a sort of economic embargo which made bi-lateral relations more difficult. At the same time, the government of Juba has adopted trade measures with Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, countries towards which South Sudan, the 54th state of Africa, could gravitate economically and politically. All of which leaves serious doubt that an agreement can be reached on the subdivision of oil profits, on monetary decisions and on the handling of more than 35 billion dollars of foreign debt, to be divided between Khartoum and Juba. In any case, the South Sudan Minister for Regional Cooperation, Deng Alor, said that, “without Abyei there is no dialogue on the other questions: we won’t waste time discussing foreign debt, rights of citizens or ownership of oil.”

Oil resources are primarily concentrated in the southern region and the Sudanese government has repeatedly declared that the division must adhere to the agreement hypothesized by the peace accord of January 9, 2005, while the authorities in Juba seem intent on controlling drilling and simply paying Khartoum for the pipelines.

In the meantime, a week of war and bombardments has provoked yet another humanitarian crisis in an area all too familiar with crises. More than 40,000 residents have evacuated Abyei, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees; a figure which includes only those refugees the UN was able to censure. The government of Juba reports numbers four times as high: according to the South Sudan Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, James Kok Ruea, more than 150,000 civilians have fled Abyei and nearby zones, “The situation is terrible. Women, children, elderly are fleeing from brutal violence and they have no refuge,” the Minister said.

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