(Updates with comment from Sudanese army in eighth paragraph.)
Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- The United Nations must accelerate efforts to help more than 100,000 people return to their homes in Abyei, a region claimed by Sudan and South Sudan, Amnesty International said.
“The Sudanese Army and allied militia have driven virtually the entire population out of Abyei and burned down their homes so as to prevent their return,” Donatella Rovera, London-based Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser, said today in an e-mailed statement.
A 4,200-member United Nations mission hasn’t fully deployed in Abyei since the Security Council approved it on June 27. Sudan agreed to withdraw its soldiers from the area once the full UN contingent arrived and an interim administration is in place. Sudan’s army seized the main town in Abyei on May 21 after accusing the south’s army of attacking its troops.
Abyei is one of several disputes threatening to spark conflict between Sudan and its newly independent southern neighbor. Fighting between President Umar al-Bashir’s government in Khartoum and rebels it says South Sudan backs has intensified in border states since the south seceded on July 9.
The countries are also negotiating over fees the south should pay the north for sending its crude exports to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. South Sudan assumed control of three-quarters of the former unified state’s oil production of almost 490,000 barrels a day when it became independent.
“The situation is untenable and adds to the already considerable tensions between the two countries,” UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said in a Nov. 27 report to the Security Council.
Since Sudan seized Abyei, most of the residents of the main town have fled south where they “are living in dire conditions,” Amnesty said. “Charred homes and the shells of looted buildings testify to the horrors that took place in Abyei, which is now a ghost town.”
Sudanese army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khaled today denied his forces were responsible for any abuses.
“We’re in Abyei to protect borders and ensure safety and security for citizens,” he said, declining to provide details on the number of Sudanese troops in Abyei.
A referendum in Abyei scheduled in January on whether to join the south or remain a special administrative region in the north was canceled because of disagreements over who was eligible to vote.
Abyei is contested between the region’s Ngok Dinka people, who are settled in the area and consider themselves southerners, and Misseriya nomads who herd their cattle south in the dry season and are supported by the government in Khartoum.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, in a 2009 ruling, set Abyei’s borders to the area around Ngok Dinka settlements. That largely excluded the Misseriya, who say that as seasonal inhabitants of the area, they should also have the right to vote.
--Editors: Karl Maier, Ben Holland
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