Abyei — the new Darfur?

Issue 

Around 300 Melbourne Sudanese community members and supporters took to the streets on May 27 to protest the indiscriminate killings taking place in the disputed oil-rich Abyei territory of Sudan.

Biong Deng Biong, member of the Dinka Ngok Abyei Association of Australia and protest spokesperson, lost both his brother and uncle in the fighting which broke out on May 13 and has since displaced over 50,000 people and destroyed most of Abyei town. The official death toll is still unknown.

He told Green Left Weekly that the North Sudanese government has moved its army into the area with the specific aim of scaring the population out of the oil rich territory.

"The North Sudanese government is acting in violation of the 2005 peace agreement, which makes it clear that the Abyei region does not belong to the North. We know that by moving the military into the area the extremist Bashir government can get access to oil which they need for political survival."

Most of Sudan's estimated 6 billion barrels of oil lie in the Abyei region. International Crisis Group estimated revenues from Abyei's oilfields amounted to around US$529 million in 2007. Sudan produces an estimated half a million barrels of oil per day and Biong believes that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) uses much of the oil income to fund its army for wars in Sudan, such as in Darfur.

The Abyei region was granted a special administrative status through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, which ended the 20 year civil war between North and South Sudan.

Biong told GLW that, although the North Sudan government signed the peace agreement, they have refused to implement any of the Abyei protocol provisions, leaving the region with a complete administrative and political vacuum, no services and no security.

According to Undispach.com, the recent resurgence of hostilities in Abyei is part of the strategy of the increasingly unpopular NCP to sabotage the 2009 national elections. Since 2007, the Abyei region has suffered added instability with the resurgence of armed groups, the NCP tactic of playing off tribal groups against each and the re-mobilisation of paramilitary troops who fought alongside the North in the civil war.

The resurgence of the fighting in Abyei could well jeopardise the fragile peace agreement and needs international help, according to Biong. "Unfortunately the killings in Abyei have been neglected by the Western media and we are also extremely concerned with the lack of UN effort to help end the deadly fighting", he said.

The protest organisers called on the Australian federal government to increase sanctions against the North Sudanese government, help with humanitarian assistance and call for UN peacekeepers to be deployed into the area immediately.

For more information visit http://www.fitzroylearningnetwork.org.au/sudan.