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New Civil War Feared in Sudan As Town Empties

ICC Note

According to UN forces and eye witness account, the Sudanese government forces are responsible for carrying out large scale attacks against the oil rich town of Abeyi . The Christian and Animist South Sudanese are driven from their homes due to the attacks by Islamic dominated government of Sudan .

By Stephanie McCrummen

05/26/2008 Sudan (Washington Post)-This contested town along Sudan ‘s volatile north-south border has been obliterated.

In recent days its mud houses and thatched-roof markets, its schools, hospitals, offices and shops have been shot, shelled and burned to the ground, and late last week Sudanese government soldiers in green fatigues were still roaming the streets, looting satellite dishes, mattresses and cases of orange soda from the smoking ruins.

More than 100,000 people — residents of Abyei and surrounding villages who only recently returned home after 20 years of war between the north and south — are gone, chased away in the worst escalation of violence since the government and former southern rebels signed a 2005 peace deal.

Sudanese government officials blame southern forces for the destruction, but southern officials, U.N. officials, witnesses and people who fled say it was a systematic campaign by the Sudanese government to depopulate the oil-rich area and take it by force.

Analysts have long warned that if the civil war resumed, it would probably start in Abyei, whose boundaries remain one of the most explosive unresolved issues of the peace deal that ended Africa ‘s longest-running civil war.

According to that deal, government and southern forces were to withdraw from the area once boundaries were determined by an independent commission. Abyei residents were to decide whether to join the north or the south in a 2011 referendum, when southerners are to vote on secession from the north.

But the agreement began to unravel almost from the start. The ruling party of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir rejected the commission’s report, which was supposed to be binding, and both sides have kept forces in the Abyei area.

The civil war was often cast as a conflict between the Muslim and Arab north and the Christian and ethnically African south. But it was more fundamentally about the ruling elite in Khartoum , the capital, depriving southerners of resources — a grievance recently taken up by rebels in Darfur , where conflict broke out in 2003.

Abyei also contains oil fields worth about $529 million in revenue last year, according to an estimate by the International Crisis Group research organization.

It began May 14, when southern police officers stopped a car carrying two civilians and a government officer at a routine checkpoint here, according to government and southern officials. There was an exchange of heated words, the police asked the passengers to get out, and soon the situation degenerated into an exchange of fire. The government officer and two policemen were killed. A second government officer was wounded.

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