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Abyei Crisis Sparks Prospect of Further Violence in Sudan, Quick International Response

Last Thursday, following scuffles in Sudan’s Abyei border region, southern Sudanese forces ambushed a UN peacekeeping convoy escorting northern forces out of Abyei town. The ambush ignited a destabilizing military confrontation between North and South Sudan, culminating in the occupation of Abyei by northern forces on Sunday. Shortly after their occupation of Abyei, the Khartoum regime deployed a tank unit to the contested region, and commenced with heavy shelling of the town. According to local Abyei administrators, the brief military encounter has sparked a wave of mass displacement, with thousands fleeing their homes. Mass unrest has continued as Khartoum entrenches its occupation of Abyei town.

Abyei town has long been a flashpoint for conflict between North and South Sudan, due to the strategic value of the town’s water resources, the ambiguities of citizenship definition between the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities, and the politicization of ethnic identities in the aftermath of conflict. A variety of international policy mechanisms, including territorial arbitration, have attempted to diffuse the crisis, to no avail. Citizenship disputes prevented an Abyei referendum, which has been postponed indefinitely. With the Khartoum regime defying international calls for restraint and civilian protection, and the South Sudanese government sending mixed messages on its response to the crisis, a variety of commentators have warned of the resurgence of civil war between North and South Sudan, less than a month before the South is due to declare its independence.

The international community responded swiftly to the Abyei crisis, and the United States was quick to notify the Khartoum government of the consequences of back-sliding on their commitment to a smooth, peaceful, and stable post-referendum process. In response to the Abyei crisis, a coalition of human rights groups, including Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition, called for a comprehensive, consequences-based Sudan policy:

As a matter of urgency, the United States should immediately suspend progress toward normalization with Sudan, including the review of its status as a state sponsor of terror, as well as any steps towards review of debt relief or the lifting of sanctions. The U.S. should convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and propose the rapid establishment of a targeted sanctions regime for anyone responsible for violence against civilians in Sudan, and immediately impose unilateral U.S. sanctions on individuals implicated in violence on both sides of the border…The U.N. Mission in Sudan should accelerate planning for emergency steps to protect civilians from violence, and the U.S. government should begin planning for contingency scenarios for civilian protection in Sudan.

Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition is holding a policy call on Thursday, May 26, to discuss the implications of the Abyei crisis for the post-referendum peace process, as well as the consequences-based policy framework for accountability and stability in Sudan. Join in:

What: National Call on the Situation in Abyei

When: Thursday, May 26, at 2:00 pm EST

Phone Number: (712) 432-0900; Passcode: 154845#


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