JUBA, Sudan–On Saturday, the northern Sudanese army invaded the border town of Abyei, rolling tanks through the streets and firing mortar rounds into the United Nations’ compound. The Sudanese Armed Forces took the strategic town of Abyei with little struggle from the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army forces stationed in the town.
The southern troops scattered, the southern army spokesman said, shortly after the majority of civilians had ran south to the town of Agok to escape the violence, which included aerial bombardments of villages north of Abyei. The aggressive military action came on the heels of a firefight on Thursday between northern and southern troops serving in a joint north-south force. The fighting destroyed a U.N. car traveling in a convoy with the northern troops.
The United Nations Security Council is currently in Sudan on a four-day visit and has condemned both the seizure of Abyei by the northern army and the subsequent looting and burning of huts and property in the town by northern troops.
Despite the Security Council’s recrimination and various statements by Western nations on the SAF invasion, which the southern government has called illegal and unconstitutional, the Khartoum government has firmly stated its position–it does not intend to withdraw from Abyei.
Yesterday, while interviewing a high-ranking Western official in Juba on a topic unrelated to Abyei, the official abruptly brought the broader politics surrounding the boiling Abyei crisis into full view for me: “We can issue statements, but where’s the leverage?”, the official pondered. Sadly, as the latest Abyei crisis churns into a volatile stalemate in which neither party appears likely to back down, these words are the most pragmatic and realist I’ve heard since violence erupted on Abyei.
The oft-cited notion that Abyei could be the spark that ignites a north-south conflict in Sudan before the oil-rich south declares independence in July is sadly moving toward reality.