UNMIS Force Commander visits Abyei as fighting escalates

23 May 2011

UNMIS Force Commander visits Abyei as fighting escalates

22 May 2011 - Following a recent attack on a UN convoy and heavy fighting in and around Abyei, UNMIS Force Commander Maj. Gen. Moses Obi visited the area today and expressed hope that warring parties would return to their earlier agreements.

While in the UN compound, Maj. Gen. Obi visited two Egyptian soldiers who were injured on the evening of 21 May as mortar rounds fell on it.

"In the past few days there has been fighting between SAF (Sudan Armed Forces), SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army), SSPS (Southern Sudan Police Service) and the rest of them ... yesterday SAF took over the town," the Force Commander said during an interview.

From the air, one could still see ongoing fighting on Sunday morning, Maj. Gen. Obi said. From UNMIS' Abyei compound, "a lot of fighting has been heard, including artillery shells, mortar shells and a lot of small arms fire".

The Force Commander added that most of the houses in town appeared abandoned. According to unverified reports from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, thousands of people have crossed Bahr El-Arab (Kiir River) at Banton Bridge and spread across multiple locations southwards towards Agok. Reports also indicate that people fled quickly with few belongings. Heavy rains during the night of 21 May and 22 May have slowed their movement.

The two parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement -- the National Congress Party and the Southern People's Liberation Movement -- had in January signed the Kadugli Agreements, which called for the withdrawal of all unauthorized forces from the area and deployment of Joint Integrated Units (JIUs).

The parties have since re-committed themselves to the agreement, but on 19 May there was an attack on an UNMIS convoy transporting 200 troops of SAF-JIUs to their designated post, as part of the Kadugli Agreements' deployment plan.

Maj. Gen. Obi said it was regrettable that the CPA parties had abandoned their earlier agreements, but was optimistic that "the international community will do everything to bring them back to the course to abide by their own agreement".

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday issued a statement condemning the ongoing escalation of violence in Abyei and expressed concern for the safety of the area's civilian population.
Mr. Ban also called for those responsible in the shelling of the UN compound to be held to account.