ground. There are reports that Abyei has been largely repopulated by members of the Misseriya tribe,altering the ethnic composition of the region.
The Abyei Occupation and the Humanitarian Toll
I heard a plan
e way up high and then ‘doom!’, the sound of a bomb hitting the ground…My
ighbor called out ‘the Arabs are coming’. They first came on motorbikes and then land
cruisers with guns mounted on them (some were wearing uniforms, but others were in civilianclothes). They started firing towards us, and bullets were landing by us. We saw people beingkilled.
In the following days, militias allegedly affiliated with the Misseriya invaded Abyei, looting and burningportions of the city. One such group fired at an UNMIS helicopter as it was lifting off.
Tens of thousandsfled Abyei, though it has been difficult to garner an accurate figure of how many due to restrictions on
access for humanitarian agencies and journalists. On 30 May, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs reported that roughly 60,000 had been displaced.
The following day, UNHCRreported that over 1/3 of the city had been burnt to the ground and warned of further displacement.
31,256 displaced people were registered in Warrap state and 27,961 in Agok.
Some were newlydisplaced when rumours began that Agok would also soon be attacked. Humanitarian assessment teamswere unable to reach many areas due to insecurity and heavy rains, and many of the displaced havebeen reliant on host communities for food and shelter.The SAF has disputed support to any militias pillaging Abyei, alleging that they are affiliated with theMisseriya. As the force exercising effective control over the area, the SAF has obligations to protectcivilians and maintain law and order. Rumours quickly spread that the SAF and Misseriya werecooperating to repopulate Abyei town.
The Crucible of Abyei in Post-Referendum Negotiations
Straddling both sides of S
udan’s 1956 border, Abyei is geographically, ethnically, and politically caught
between the North and South.
Its oil production may not be as important as it once was, as many of
most productive oil fields were determined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) to beoutside the borders of Abyei in Heglig. Despite this, both the North and South have huge reasons to notwant to let Abyei go. The North fears alienating the Northern nomadic Misseriya, who also live in
Mary Ajiang Kur, one of the first testimonies published by Rebecca Hamilton and the Pulitzer Center, grabbed herchildren and hid in the bushes before fleeing Abyei. Pulitzer
Center, “Terror in Abyei”, 31 May 2011
On 29 May, a confidential UN memo that equated the situation in Abyei to ethnic cleansing was leaked. Thelanguage was later toned down.
OCHA, “Sudan: Abyei Crisis, Situation Report #8”, 30 May 2011
UNCHR, “Sudan’s Abyei Region Could See Further Displacement, warns UNHCR”, 31 May 2011
Abyei has a long history of contestation between the North and South. The referendum on Abyei’s
administrative status remains the main stumbling block in reaching a final agreement between the NCP and SPLM.In 1905, Abyei was transferred from Northern Bahr el Ghazal, a Southern territory, into Kordofan. The 1972 AddisAbaba Agreement defined the Southe
rn province as including “other areas (in addition to Bahr el Ghazal,
Equatoria, and Upper Nile), that were culturally and geographically a part of the Southern complex as may bedecided by a referendum. The referendum never took place as the country was plunged back into civil war andattacks on the Dinka Ngok increased in the late 1970s.