Fellow Rebecca Hamilton in The New Republic: “Is Sudan Heading for Civil War? The looming consequences of conflict in the border region of Abyei.”
Fellow Rebecca Hamilton has just published an article in The New Republic on recent events in Abyei:
The residents of Abyei, the largest town of the contested border region between north and south Sudan, have deserted their homes in search of safety after the northern government took the town by force this weekend. The seizure of the town follows an ambush by a southern group on a convoy of northern forces who were withdrawing from the town under U.N. escort. According to U.N. deputy spokesperson Hua Jiang, 15 Sudanese army tanks rolled into the town on Saturday evening. Heavy shelling ensued, and a mortar was fired on the U.N. compound in the area, wounding two peacekeepers. Médecins Sans Frontiers reported treating 42 wounded in the weekend attack, adding to the human cost of violence in the area, which has claimed over 100 lives already this year.
The ongoing violence is a reflection of a political failure to resolve whether Abyei will belong to the north or the south when, following a referendum vote earlier this year, they officially split into two countries on July 9. Sudan observers have long predicted that Abyei might be a trigger for the resumption of civil war. Twenty-two years of conflict between the Sudanese government in the predominantly Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the mainly Christian and animist south came to an end with a 2005 peace deal. But the two sides were never able to agree on the status of Abyei, an area known for its lush grasslands in the rainy season and for a river, called Kiir by southerners and Bahr el Arab by northerners, that is a vital water source throughout the dry season. (Contrary to common misperception, the area is not rich with oil, although lucrative oil fields do lie just beyond its borders.) Today, Abyei’s future has become infused with symbolic value that has made it particularly resistant to a negotiated settlement.