Sudanese town of Abyei still tense after burning, looting: UN

09:46, May 26, 2011      

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While the Sudanese town of Abyei is now empty with its residents having fled the recent violence, the situation there remains tense, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said here on Wednesday, calling on both north and south Sudan to cease their hostilities and return to negotiations.

The disputed town, which is contested by both north and south Sudan, has witnessed renewed clashes in recent days, including looting and burning earlier this week, following the takeover of the area by Sudanese government forces. The violence has forced thousands to flee their homes.

"Initial patrols around the area of conflict suggest that looting and pillaging have left the town badly damaged and empty," Nesirky said at a news briefing, adding that no civilian casualties have been observed and that sporadic gunfire persists in the area.

The recent violence and deteriorating security in Abyei has sparked concern from UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who highlighted the situation in his remarks on Wednesday to the Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on Peace and Security in Africa.

"We must all impress on the parties that military confrontation in Abyei is not an option," Ban told the gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

"I have also called on both parties to cease their military operations, withdraw all forces and armed elements from the Abyei area, and desist from further acts of aggression, including attacks on UN peacekeepers," he said.

Ethiopia is Ban's final leg of a three-country, five-day visit to the continent, which has also taken him to Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria.

Earlier this month, unidentified assailants shot and wounded four peacekeepers serving with the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) while they were on patrol in Abyei, and last week a UN convoy transporting 200 troops of the Joint Integrated Units (JIU) of the Sudan Armed Forces was attacked.

Just on Tuesday, the crew of four UNMIS helicopters lifting off in quick succession witnessed shots fired from positions believed to be close to the mission's premises in Abyei. The helicopters were not carrying passengers and were not hit, the UN reported.

UNMIS is in the process of deploying an additional company to Abyei, which is expected to be completed on Wednesday. Another company of four armored personnel carriers was redeployed on Wednesday to the town of Agok, south of Abyei, where most civilians affected by the conflict have fled.

Deadly clashes have claimed dozens of lives since the start of the year, when a referendum on Abyei's status that was supposed to have been held never took place amid disagreement on voter eligibility. Southern Sudan will formally secede from the rest of the country on July 9 as a result of a separate referendum.

Source: Xinhua
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