This past week, 3 villages near the Abyei region have been burned by northern forces, and at least 33 Southern Sudanese police have been killed. Abyei is the contested region between north and south that was not included in the referendum. It is rich in oil, and because it is so close to the border, is populated both with Arab northerners as well as Black southerners.
(As an EXTREMELY abbreviated background version of north/south tensions: Sudan is a country solely because of British colonization and random border drawing. The north is predominantly Arab, while the south is African tribes who are mostly Christian or Animist. Yet because the government sits in the north, for a long time the south has been under harsh rule, subject to enslavement and oppression. The south has been forced to live under Shar’ia law. After oil was discovered right on the border between north and south, ownership and possession disputes exasperated already high conflicts. Add in migratory patterns and cattle grazing feuds and it became somewhat of a perfect storm for 50 years of civil war.)
Abyei was left out of the referendum in January in order to assure a peaceful vote. Pretty much both sides agreed to deal with the region later. Things went well during the vote, but now tensions are beginning to flare again. While there has yet to be a huge outbreak of violence, this could be a spark. Fingers crossed that it’s not.
Reading up today on the situation, I do have to say that I was somewhat amused by the title of this [extraordinarily long] article. Very serious, very in depth article by an American who has spent many years writing/studying Sudanese events and politics. But the title still amuses me:
Despite the harsh and somewhat amusing headline (Really, “diplomatic incompetence”? Ha. And ouch.), the article is a solid background look into the complexities facing the north/south split, as well as specifically the issues facing Abyei. I encourage anyone with an interest in the topic and 20 minutes to spare to have a read.
And more articles:
“The Satellite Sentinel Project is the first to confirm the widespread and systematic targeting of civilian infrastructure across the Abyei region. This is the kind of undeniable evidence we feared we’d see if we put a camera where we weren’t welcome. Village burning has caused tens of thousands to be displaced, unknown numbers of civilian casualties, and the deliberate destruction of at least three communities. If this violence is left unchecked, it could put the entire North-South peace process at risk.”
And the NY Times take on the situation:
“Officials in Abyei said that the police had received warning of a planned attack on Tajalei and that they had evacuated its roughly 2,000 residents, many of whom headed to Abyei town, on Friday. The next day the attackers came, setting the town ablaze, the officials said in telephone interviews.”
And no, to quell fears, this is not near me, and I am in no immediate danger.