How sad and frightfully ironic. Seven years to the day since signing the Abyei Protocol with the SPLM, Sudanese President Bashir’s troops and armed elements have forcibly entered the Abyei region, with civilians running for their lives as SAF forces and militia burned, razed and looted the abandoned town to the ground. This violation not only sets back the prospects for implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, but it has also raised the likelihood of a renewed North-South civil war.
Following an attack by SPLA forces on a UN convoy transferring SAF troops on May 19, Khartoum reacted militarily in what the US billed as “disproportionate and irresponsible“. Civilians fled the violence, with the UN putting estimates at approximately 15,000 civilian who fled from Abyei. Satellite Sentinel Project released satellite imagery showing SAF’s attacks were premeditated and that SAF troops are preparing for deployment into Abyei. As of today, the UN had to evacuate entirely from Abyei.
“Abyei is northern Sudanese land,” Bashir said in a speech in the capital Khartoum on Tuesday. “We will not withdraw from it.”
What’s ironic about this surge isn’t the violence itself. It’s the timing. Did the North purposefully pick this week, the anniversary of Abyei’s historic peace to lay down their might? Is it a sign of what’s to come with the CPA? Were we naive to think a genuine peace could be fostered between the hardline NCP and the rebels?
Abyei has always been Sudan’s tinderbox and the key to peace between the North and the South. One of the root causes of the civil war between the North & South was over resource-sharing, cattle grazing rights, and relations between the Ngok Dinka & Misserya in Abyei. Abyei is hotly contested for its oil-rich, fertile fields and Bashir recently claimed the region belonged to the North.
This week’s developments are a serious setback and perhaps the most damning for the CPA and the prospects of lasting peace in Sudan. Looking back at the various diplomatic, political, economic, activist and security attempts for peace, I wonder if the international community underestimated the power of the NCP. Was our post-CPA diplomacy strong enough to sustain pressure over the NCP? Or did the refusal of African leaders to arrest Bashir after the issuance of the ICC arrest warrant give the NCP leverage? Or is the NCP’s aggressive military stance indicative of stronger support from Southern actors, like China or Saudi Arabia?
The international community grossly underestimated the NCP’s willingness to resort to violence as a means to maintain power. Numerous reports of aerial bombardments, attacks on civilians and deployment of SAF forces and militia show the North’s tendency to resort to violence. The SPLA’s provocation on May 19 gave the NCP a prime excuse for retaliation which was severely disproportionate, but clearly premeditated.