Burning and looting continues in volatile Abyei: UN

26th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Looting and burning continue in the contested Sudanese town of Abyei, while many who have fled recent clashes in the area are sleeping in the surrounding bush, the UN said Thursday.

"The situation in and around Abyei remains very, very volatile," said Elizabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN's humanitarian office (OCHA), citing reports from staff on the ground.

Khartoum's forces seized control of the disputed town on the border between north and south Sudan late Saturday, prompting between 30,000 and 40,000 people to flee the area, according to UN estimates.

"A road patrol in Abyei town revealed continued looting and burning of tukuls (huts) and confirmed that some humanitarian premises and emergency stocks have been looted," Byrs said.

"The Sudan armed forces (SAF) maintain their presence in the town and the presence of a large number of Misseriya militia has been reported," Byrs added.

The nomadic and Arab Misseriya, historically allied to Khartoum, have rejected allegations that their militias are involved in the unrest.

Byrs further said that the UN received information of gunfire in Abyei on Wednesday night.

During an overflight of the areas surrounding Abyei, UN staff noticed that many have taken refuge in nearby villages, both to the north and the south.

"But what worries us the most is that many people who have fled Abyei are still hiding in the bush," Byrs said.

"We don't know the numbers nor the places where they are hiding but we think there are many," she added.

The UN has previously indicated that it plans to send teams to find those who have fled Abyei, while cautioning that the task may be hindered by roads rendered impassable by heavy rain.

Abyei, a fertile border district claimed by both north and south, was due to vote on its future in January alongside a referendum on independence for the south, which delivered a landslide for secession.

But Abyei's plebiscite did not happen amid arguments as to who was eligible to vote.

The north's move in the run-up to international recognition of southern independence in July has been condemned by world powers as a threat to peace between north and south.

However, despite strongly condemning Khartoum's seizure of the town, south Sudanese leader Salva Kiir on Thursday ruled out a return to war with the north over Abyei.

"We will not go back to war, it will not happen," said Kiir, in his first public statement since the fighting began last week. "We are committed to peace."

© 2011 AFP

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