Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sudan's Disputed Abyei Region Under Northern Control

Sudan's northern government says it has taken control of the disputed Abyei region, raising the specter of a new civil war with south Sudan as that region prepares for independence.

Amin Hassan Omar, a minister of state for presidential affairs, told a news conference Sunday that northern forces are clearing Abyei of southern army troops.

North Sudan army tanks rolled through Abyei's main town, after a military offensive that scattered southern troops and sent residents fleeing for safety. Khartoum also issued a decree dissolving the town's administration.

A spokesman for the south's army, Philip Aguer, said the military was waiting to hear from southern government officials about how to respond.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders said nearly the entire population of Abyei has fled the town.

Violence between the north and south in oil-rich Abyei had escalated in recent days. The future of the region remains unresolved as southern Sudan gets set to declare independence from the north on July 9.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has warned his government would not recognize south Sudan as an independent state it it did not give up claims on Abyei.

A U.N. Security Council delegation is in Khartoum Sunday for talks on the Abyei issue.

The armies of the north and south previously had agreed to conduct joint patrols in Abyei. But, fighting erupted in the region Thursday, when a northern army convoy accompanied by U.N. peacekeepers came under attack. Both armies accused each other of firing first.

The White House accused southern Sudanese forces of attacking the convoy and deplored the incident. But it has also condemned the Sudanese government's seizure of Abyei.

The Obama administration urged President Bashir and southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir to meet "immediately" and agree on a way to restore calm, uphold their peace agreement and recommit to a negotiated political settlement on Abyei's status.

A referendum on whether Abyei should be a part of the north or the south had been scheduled for last January, but did not take place because the two sides could not agree on who was eligible to vote.

South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to split from the north in a January referendum that was part of a 2005 peace agreement. That pact ended a 21-year north-south civil war in which the Abyei region was a key battleground.

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