Sudan: “bloodbath” in Abeyi; US talks on hold

For the past three days, the disputed Sudanese territory of Abeyi has been undergoing what one local SPLA official calls a “bloodbath,” with Misseriya ethnic militiamen attacking local Ngok (Dinka) residents, and Battalion 31 of the Sudan Armed Forces shelling the area “indiscriminately.” The SPLA and Ngok residents accuse the Sudan Armed Forces of arming the Misseriya militia in violation of the peace agreement. (New Sudan Vision, May 20)

Thousands of civilians displaced from Abyei town by the clashes are living in rough encampments in nearby forests. “The whole civilian population in Abyei town and surrounding villages was pushed out of town in disarray by the heavy bombardments,” SPLA spokesman Maj. Gen. Peter Parnyang Daniel said. “Most of the town, especially the market, police station and JIU [Joint Integrated Unit, formed as part of the peace agreement] barracks got burnt not only from the bombardments, but also from the [Sudan armed forces] soldiers who were sent to burn what was left—mainly the civilian residential areas.” Army spokesman Brig. Osman Mohamed al Aghbash denied the claims, saying the SPLA forces had besieged the army’s Brigade 31 in the town center, and were responsible for the bombardments.

The UN puts the number displaced since May 13 at between 30,000 and 50,000. “Many thousands of those people have been repeatedly displaced and have just come back home this year to be forced to flee again at a time when they were planning to till their land for the next planting season,” said Ameerah Haq, deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General to Sudan. (IRIN, May 19)

Meanwhile, Sudanese presidential advisor Nafi Ali Nafi confirmed that the second round of normalization negotiations with the US have been postponed indefinitely. He declined to comment on the reason for the suspension. A delegation led by US special envoy Richard Williamson was due to arrive in Khartoum for the talks May 20. The head of US affairs in the Sudanese foreign ministry, said the recent rebel assault on Khartoum may “impact the commencement of talks.”

Williamson met with in Rome last month with a Sudanese delegation headed by Nafi and including Kahrtoum’s spy chief Salah Gosh and foreign minister Deng Alor. The talks drew widespread criticism, and Democratic White House contender Barack Obama issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned” over reports that the Bush administration is seeking to normalize ties with Sudan.

The New York Times (April 17) reported it had obtained a series of documents exchanged between Washington and Khartoum on steps to normalize relations. The documents were leaked by an unidentified US official described as being “critical of the administration’s position.”

The report said that the Bush administration could normalize relations and remove Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism if Khartoum agreed to allow Thai and Nepalese peacekeepers as part of the peacekeeping force.

Williamson told US lawmakers that the report is “not accurate.” He further said that it was the Sudanese government which approached Washington on the requirements for normalizing ties. “Concrete, verifiable, significant progress must be achieved on the ground before we can contemplate improved relations,” Williamson said.

Williamson told a group of Darfur activists in a conference call sponsored by Enough Project from Washington that he does not foresee improvement of ties with Sudan “during his tenure.”

However, following the Rome talks Khartoum decided to release containers belonging to the US embassy that were being held by custom authorities in Port Sudan for over a year. The containers contained equipment to be used for new US embassy complex under construction in Khartoum. The daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoting an unidentified Sudanese official said that the US administration agreed to “re-open a bank account for the Sudanese embassy in Washington” in return. Earlier this month, Washington also released a number of Sudanese inmates held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay. (Sudan Tribune, May 20)

Interesting. The White House opens talks with Sudan just as Bush unsublty baited Obama for his willingness to talk to (US-defined) terrorists and terror-sponsors. Did hardliners in Khartoum instrument the Abeyi violence to derail the talks? Or did hardliners in Washington do so, towards the same end (via CIA/Pentagon links to the SPLA)? Or both? It does appear the Khartoum-backed Misseriya were the aggressors here, but we acknowledge that our sources (New Sudan Vision and Sudan Tribune) are both from the Sudanese exile-based opposition and more sympathetic to the SPLA…

See our last post on Sudan.