Fresh satellite images of Sudan’s flashpoint Abyei area provide evidence of war crimes committed by the North Sudanese army, including “state-sponsored ethnic cleansing,” a monitoring group said yesterday.
Northern troops overran the contested border region last week, drawing condemnation from world powers, who have said the action is a threat to peace between the North and South.
Tens of thousands of people fled southwards when Khartoum’s troops and tanks, alongside northern-aligned militia gunmen, poured into the area.
The Satellite Sentinel Project, which obtained and analyzed the images, said they show “extensive and wanton destruction and appropriation of property without the justification of military necessity.”
The latest set of images show for the first time the extent of the destruction.
One third of homes and “civilian structures” in Abyei have been razed, while a key bridge connecting Abyei with the South has been blown up, it added.
That will “make it even harder for tens of thousands of displaced people to return,” said the monitoring group, which was set up by Hollywood star and rights activist George Clooney last year.
“We focused satellites on Abyei because everyone concerned believed that if the [North] Sudan government would try to undermine the North-South peace, it would do so through Abyei,” said Clooney in a statement.
“We now have undeniable proof of the Khartoum regime’s war crimes in Abyei,” he added.
The evidence is being sent to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court, who have already issued arrest warrants for North Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on genocide charges in the western Darfur region.
“The government of [North] Sudan has committed grave violations of the Geneva Conventions and other war crimes, some of which may also constitute crimes against humanity,” the US-based group said in the statement. “The totality of evidence from satellites and ground sources points to state-sponsored ethnic cleansing of much of the contested Abyei region.”
The northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) has defended its role.
“SAF intervention in Abyei was legal and legitimate, and comes within their responsibility to protect the country, its sovereignty and security,” said the Sudan Media Center (SMC), a Web site widely believed to be close to the security forces.
Efforts are being made to defuse the tension.
Senior commanders of both the North and South’s armies met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Saturday “in a bid to find solution to the crisis,” SMC said.
Khartoum’s chief Abyei negotiator, Al-Dirdiri Mohammed Ahmed, said he expected efforts to hold a presidential meeting of the North and South’s leaders in the next few days “would be successful,” the SMC added.
The meeting would be mediated by an African Union panel led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, he added.
South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar is also in Khartoum to try to “ease tensions” over the area.
Meanwhile, North Sudan has ordered the official termination of the UN’s North-South peacekeeping mission on July 9, the date the South will declare full independence, Khartoum’s official news agency said.
“Sudan has officially notified the United Nations of the end of the term of the United Nations Mission in Sudan on July 9,” the agecny said in a statement late on Saturday.