Tens of thousands flee fighting in Sudan's Abyei: MSF

4th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Tens of thousands of people have fled clashes in the oil-rich Abyei region on the border between north and south Sudan, leaving the town almost empty, Medecins Sans Frontieres said Friday.

Fighting broke out on Tuesday between fighters from the Misseriya tribe, which supports the government in Khartoum in the north, and the Ngok Dinka people who back the south which has voted to secede.

At least 70 people were killed and two villages razed in two days of clashes north of Abyei, a spokesman for the army in the south said last week.

"Since yesterday, tens of thousands of people have fled the town, leaving it mostly empty," Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said Friday.

"MSF's upmost concern is to be able to reach and treat all patients impartially," the relief group said.

On Thursday the United Nations ordered extra peacekeepers to the region.

Abyei did not take part in a referendum in January in which southern Sudan voted to secede from the north.

MSF programme manager for Sudan Phil Humphris noted that most of those displaced by the fighting appeared to be heading south.

"I spoke to the field coordinator when he was driving out of town and he said, 'Look, it's completely empty'. We just basically said we've to try to find the people, try to find where they've gone," he told AFP.

"We haven't found everybody yet, but the majority of people seem to be going south," he said, adding that those fleeing are mostly women and children.

"The northern area is an insecure area where the fighting is happening. We don't know if people are moving in that direction," he added.

MSF said 21 people with gunshot wounds were taken to a hospital in Agok, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Abyei, the direction where many of the displaced were heading.

A similar number was understood to have arrived at a hospital in the north, he said.

The charity was particularly concerned for those needing medical help in the north and was in talks with authorities to be able to secure access, he said.

"At the moment, we're not complaining of a blockage or a denial of access," he said. "We're saying that assistance is needed, that we can help, and we're hopeful that permission will be given."

© 2011 AFP

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