Sudanese president rules out withdrawal from Abyei
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
||May 24, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir on Tuesday hardened his stance on his army’s takeover of Abyei last weekend, emphasizing that he does not intend to order a withdrawal.
"Abyei is Sudanese land, a Northern land [and] we will not withdraw from it," Bashir addressed a meeting of educational workers and vocational teachers in Khartoum today.
Sudan’s official news agency (SUNA) omitted this portion of Bashir’s speech but included his remarks giving Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) the green light to respond to provocations by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) anywhere.
The Sudanese president mocked the Southern ex-rebel group saying they thought the SAF is spread thin and exhausted because of the separate armed conflict in Darfur.
"But we are prepared for war and going back to [the battles] of the 40th mile and Torit," he said.
He slammed the US administration for demanding the withdrawal of his troops without waiting for the clarifications Washington requested from the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) on the attack.
The U.S. was the first to point fingers at the South of standing behind the attack but at the same time demanded the immediate withdrawal by the SAF from Abyei and said this is a violation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between North and South Sudan.
Western countries as well as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted the same stance taken by the US regarding the attack.
Washington warned Khartoum that unless Sudan withdraws from Abyei the process of normalizing ties and lifting the country’s name from the list of states that sponsor terrorism would be stalled.
But Bashir said today that he is not concerned with the U.S. "sticks or carrots".
SAF entered the disputed border region over the weekend in retaliation for an ambush near Abyei blamed on the SPLA. The SAF convoy that came under attack was escorted by peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
Initially the Sudanese government said 22 soldiers were killed and dozens have gone missing in the aftermath of the attack. But the Sudanese ambassador to Kenya Kamal Ismail Saeed said today that 197 northern troops were either killed or are missing.
The United Nations on Tuesday made its first acknowledgment that the attack was carried out by the South.
"[T]he available information and eyewitness accounts describing the assailants, including their uniforms, strongly suggest that the attackers were members of the Southern Sudan police or military forces. And we’ve asked the Government of South Sudan to launch an investigation immediately and hold the perpetrators accountable, as attacks on UN peacekeepers constitute war crimes under international law," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.
However, Nesirky suggested that the casualties figures given by Khartoum may be exaggerated.
"I think that the numbers are much smaller than that, according to the reporting that I have seen. But I’d have to come back to you. I don’t know that we have a concrete actual toll. As I understand it, once that attack took place, many of the people in the convoy dispersed, and I don’t know that they have been accounted for," he said.
The CPA also promised Abyei residents their own referendum over whether to join north or south, but that did not take place as neither could agree who was qualified to vote.
U.N. officials said between 15,000 and 20,000 people fled Abyei, many heading to Agok, just over the southern border.
"We are concerned ... about the grave humanitarian consequences of what’s transpired in Abyei. There have been horrific reports of looting and burning," said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., visiting the southern capital Juba.
GoSS president Salva Kiir handed the UNSC a protest letter on the takeover of Abyei by the North. He also conveyed to the former South African president Thabo Mbeki who is mediating between both sides the need of immediate withdrawal and return of the residents who fled the fighting.