Northern Sudan’s seizure of a contested border region is an act of war, a spokesman for the Southern Sudanese army said yesterday, raising fears that fighting over the town could reignite the civil war between north and south.
Southern officials said Northern forces with tanks occupied the disputed town of Abyei on Saturday night, scattering Southern troops that were there as part of a joint security unit. Both sides claim the fertile region, which lies near several important oil fields.
The North’s seizure of the town follows several days of fighting and bombing and drew immediate condemnation from the US government.
“We didn’t declare war,” Southern army spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said. “The [Sudanese ruling party] National Congress Party and the Sudan Armed Forces declared war on us.”
Southern Sudan fought the north for more than two decades in a brutal war that claimed more than 2 million lives. A peace deal in 2005 offered the south the chance for independence and it overwhelmingly voted to secede in a January referendum. It is scheduled to become the world’s newest country in less than two months, but the Abyei violence threatens to further destabilize an already volatile region.
Aguer said Southern troops stationed in Abyei were overrun and scattered after the North conducted two days of aerial bombardments, focusing on a bridge where Southern reinforcements would have entered.
The Southern army “will maintain the status quo,” he said, while it waits for the decision of the Southern government on how best to respond.
Aguer called for the UN Mission in Sudan “to protect the people of Abyei,” saying that the Northern government intends to “displace civilians and commit human rights violations as they did in Darfur.”
Several members of the Abyei government were missing, he said.