Last month the Northern Sudanese army, helped by Misseriya tribesmen, attacked the disputed town of Abyei, which lies on the border between North and South Sudan. President Bashir said the invasion, which was preceded by artillery and aerial bombardments, was in retaliation for an attack on his own troops. Most of those who live in Abyei, which has a population of 40,000, are Southern Sudanese – and thousands more returned there from the North in the weeks before and after January’s independence referendum. After the attack most of the town’s inhabitants fled across the sluggish brown river they call the Kiir. More joined the exodus, until something like 100,000 people were moving south on foot. In Abyei, tanks were parked on the roads, homes set alight, possessions stolen, and the UN compound, which was the town’s most prominent feature, was hit by mortars, its helicopters fired on and its food warehouses looted. The bridge across the Kiir was blown up. ‘Abyei is Northern Sudanese land,’ President Bashir declared in Khartoum. In Juba, the Southern president, Salva Kiir, said he wouldn’t be drawn into another war when independence was so close.
LRB 30 June 2011 | PDF Download