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Fragile stalemate emerges after fighting in Sudan's Abyei region

With the northern Sudanese military firmly in control of the disputed territory of Abyei, Abyei’s residents have fled to the nearby towns of Agok and Aniet.

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“Really, it’s a policy of ethnic cleansing,” Manyiel said. “If the SAF was only retaliating for the SPLA attack, why wouldn’t they just target soldiers? [The northern government] cleared out the Dinka so that they could resettle the Misseryia. They have to occupy Abyei so that they can negotiate from a strong position. Now, at the table, they can say anything they want.”

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With the northern military firmly in control of Abyei and the SPLA positioned along the river, Agok and Aniet are about as far north as Abyei’s residents can settle. Still, their leaders say that many residents are eager to come this far.

Sitting on a mat not far from where they will construct their temporary home, Manyiel’s family – now joined by two grandmothers, two aunts, and a handful of cousins, including a three-week old baby – looks at ease, especially considering their recent ordeal. They will soon receive food from the World Food Program and a sack of household goods to help them get started. Friends and neighbors from Abyei have settled nearby. Considering the volatility of the situation in Abyei and the fact that a resolution looks a long way off, the relative calm in Aniet might be an appealing alternative. But Manyiel waves off the idea that his family could stay here permanently. “Abyei is not their land,” he said, using the generic term Arab. “Why would we leave it to them? If they take it, how do we know that they won’t come and take this place as well?”

Mr. Kuol said that people in his community have expressed frustration about the southern army’s inability to repel the attack on Abyei. “Some people say the SPLA should have done more to defend. But we in the leadership understand that for now they are focused on the July 9th process,” he said. “They do not want to jeopardize the independence.”

Within this community that identifies itself as southern, the upcoming secession, now just a month away, lacks the celebratory luster that it holds in much of the South. “As it was agreed, we will not be part of the independent state,” said Manyiel. “But we are happy to see the South get what they fought for.” He paused for a moment. “What we fought for.”

For at least the next month, the stable but fragile new status quo seems it will endure. Aid organizations now have a clear sense of who is in need and are coordinating to provide services. The river forms a natural boundary between the two armies, and commanders with the southern forces have indicated they will not make any moves north. But the words “for now” are uttered frequently – by displaced people, aid workers, armed men, and Abyei’s leaders alike.

-– Laura Heaton blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said.


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