A South Sudanese official on Friday claimed that 150, 000 people have fled the country’s flashpoint region of Abyei since it was seized over the weekend by north Sudan army.
James Kok Ruea, South Sudan minister of Humanitarian Affairs said that people had been fleeing Abyei since the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) of north Sudan occupied the region in retaliation for an ambush blamed on South Sudan army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
SAF troops were ambushed as they were being escorted out of the region by peacekeepers from the UN Mission in Sudan.
“The situation is terrible – they are running in fear from brutal violence, without shelter,” Ruea was quoted.
But the figure put forward by the southern minister significantly exceeds that of the UN, which puts the number at between 30,000 and 40,000.
The UN said, in an assessment report released on Friday, that its air and ground patrols over 10 villages north and south of Abyei town showed that the area was empty except for a “heavy presence of armed men.”
“No displaced populations were observed… burnt tukuls in several villages were reported,” it said.
According to Sudan’s 2008 census, the sparsely populated region of Abyei has only 52,883 people, including the populations of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms, the Messirya Arab nomadic tribe as well as other Sudanese residents in the area.
The International Organization of Migration (IOM) on Friday said that thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) have poured into Southern Sudan’s Warrap, Unity and Northern Bahr El Ghazal states.
IOM said it had registered four truckloads of IDPs who arrived in Turalei in Warrap State on May 25th in addition to 1,000 IDPs who arrived on May 26 in Wunrok, south of Turalei.
Meanwhile, the New York Human Rights Watch on Friday accused the Sudanese government of mobilizing its forces to loot and destroy civilian property in Abyei, one day after the UN reported that items of emergency relief at its premises and those of other NGOs in Abyei were looted.
The Sudanese government “should immediately end the mass displacement of civilians and other abuses by soldiers and allied militias [in Abyei],” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Abyei region, the site of north-south tribal overlapping, is a major point of contention in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended more than two decades of civil wars between north and south Sudan in 2005.
The status of the oil-producing region was supposed to be determined through a referendum vote in January but the plebiscite never materialized due to disagreements between north and south Sudan over who can vote.