Abyei Under Fire in Sudan?

With the world distracted by the escalating conflict in Libya and increasing tensions throughout the Arab world, has Khartoum begun an effort to undermine the peace with the newly independent South Sudan and force a fait accompli for possession of the disputed Abyei province? Yesterday the the Satellite Sentinel Project released new satellite imagery "confirming the intentional burning of a third village, Tajalei, in Sudan’s Abyei region, in addition to the deliberate destruction since March 2 of the villages of Maker Abior and Todach." Thousands of refugees are reportedly already on the move out of the region as attacks that began Feb. 27 have been escalating. The village assaults have included militia associated with the Sudan military, despite the north's apparent acceptance of the results of the January referendum which approved independence for the south.

According to the analysis of the satellite images at least 300 buildings at Tajalei were intentionally destroyed by fire. "Roughly two-thirds of those buildings appear to be consistent with civilian residential structures, known as tukuls."

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Actor George Clooney, who conceived of the Satellite Sentinel Project during a trip to Southern Sudan with Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast, stated:

"The Satellite Sentinel Project is the first to confirm the widespread and systematic targeting of civilian infrastructure across the Abyei region. This is the kind of undeniable evidence we feared we'd see if we put a camera where we weren't welcome. Village burning has caused tens of thousands to be displaced, unknown numbers of civilian casualties, and the deliberate destruction of at least three communities. If this violence is left unchecked, it could put the entire North-South peace process at risk.”

Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast stated:“Satellite imagery combined with on-the-ground analysis is pointing to a deliberate attempt to subvert peace efforts by elements associated with the Khartoum government. By trying to displace Dinka residents from parts of Abyei, the case is strengthened to further divide the Abyei region between North and South. If mediators and concerned governments acquiesce to this strategy, it would legitimize local population clearing efforts and would be a recipe for a wider war.”

"The pattern in which these buildings were apparently burned is consistent with the intentional targeting of civilian infrastructure,” said Charlie Clements, MD, Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School and Director of Human Rights Documentation for SSP. "The systematic destruction of villages, primarily through the burning of civilian infrastructure, including residences, is a violation of the laws of war and represents a gross violation of human rights."

The project has also been tracking military activity by apparent Sudanese Armed Forces in South Kordofan state, as well as apparent Sudan People’s Liberation Army buildup south of Abyei. It reports, "The continuing militarization of this tense region, including evidence of battle tanks and other heavy equipment, has contributed to an already volatile situation."

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