Last Updated: Mon Mar 07, 2011 18:16 pm (KSA) 15:16 pm (GMT)

Abyei violence overshadows Sudan border talks

An aerial shot of Abyei town
An aerial shot of Abyei town

A U.S. campaign group monitoring Sudan's restive north-south borders said on Monday 300 buildings in a village in the flashpoint Abyei region have been torched by militia groups linked to Khartoum.

The claim follows a week of deadly violence in the region and comes just ahead of a meeting in the capital of top officials from the north and south to discuss border demarcation prior to southern independence in July.

 Roughly two-thirds of those buildings appear to be consistent with civilian residential structures, known as tukuls 
Satellite Sentinel Project

"At least 300 buildings at Tajalei were intentionally destroyed by fire, according to Satellite Sentinel Project analysis of the DigitalGlobe satellite image taken on March 6," anti-genocide group the Enough Project said in a statement.

"Roughly two-thirds of those buildings appear to be consistent with civilian residential structures, known as tukuls," it said, adding that the satellite imagery pointed to "a deliberate attempt to subvert peace efforts by elements associated with the Khartoum government."

The satellite monitoring project was set up by Hollywood star and human rights activist George Clooney in December.

Abyei's chief administrator Deng Arop Kuol confirmed that Tajalei was attacked on Saturday by Misseriya Arab nomads, who support the Khartoum government, and the Sudanese Armed Forces.

"On Saturday, the Misseriya and SAF attacked Tajalei village, which is about 25 kilometres northeast of Abyei town. They burned some houses, but no one was killed," he told AFP.

The latest attack in the flashpoint Abyei region comes just a day after French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres said tens of thousands of people had fled earlier clashes between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka people, who back the south.

At least 70 people were killed and two villages razed in the two days of fighting that began on Tuesday, according to a southern army spokesman.

Peace agreement

The violence also coincides with efforts to implement a peace agreement reached by the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling parties of north and south Sudan, in the South Kordofan state capital Kadugli on January 17.

The UN humanitarian chief in Sudan, Georg Charpentier, said he was concerned about the impact on civilians of the latest fighting in Abyei.

"The humanitarian coordinator calls on all parties to respect the Kadugli agreements... and to refrain from any action that could put civilians in danger," his office said in a statement on Monday.

Al-Dirdiri Mohammed Ahmed, the NCP's representative in charge of the Abyei file, said a follow-up committee had been established to implement the January agreement.

Northern and southern officials, meanwhile, led by presidential adviser Salah Gosh and the SPLM's secretary general Pagan Amum, were due to meet in Khartoum in the coming days to discuss Sudan's contested north-south border, which Ahmed said would include Abyei's border.

But he countered the accusations that the Misseriya nomads were responsible for the last week's violence, by claiming that the SPLM had been arming its supporters in the region.

"The main threat to security is by armed groups that are supported by the SPLM and were brought to Abyei before the referendum under the guise of the south Sudan police," he told AFP.

"The Misseriya took this as a threat to their movement in the area and access to water for their cows," he added.

Tensions in the impoverished district have been high since January's independence referendum in the neighboring south, which saw an almost unanimous vote for secession from the north.

A simultaneous plebiscite on Abyei's own future, as to whether it joins the north or south, was indefinitely postponed with neither side able to agree on voter eligibility.

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