UN deploys troops in disputed Abyei after an attack leaves 11 dead

Wednesday May 19 2021

Peacekeepers deployed in the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) patrol outside Abyei town on December 14, 2016. PHOTO | ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN | AFP

By Garang Malak


The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) has deployed forces in Dunguop village of Abyei town after an attack on civilians left at least 11 people dead and seven others injured, according to the area deputy administrator.

Speaking to The EastAfrican on Tuesday, Kon Manyiet said one person is missing following the attack.

“The attack happened on Sunday…They did random shooting on the civilians,” he said.

Calm returned to the area after UNISFA deployed its troops there, he said.

“We have issued a statement and I assume the Juba administration is now aware of the issue,” Manyiet added.


Past events

In January last year, an attack on the Dinka village in Abyei left at least 19 people dead and dozens others injured, according to UNISFA.

After days of negotiations, six children who were reportedly abducted during the clashes were returned.

Days after the incident, activists urged Juba, Khartoum, UN and the African Union to fast track the designation of Abyei to avoid future conflict.

In the following month, South Sudan and Sudan agreed to form a joint team to look into violent clashes.

The consensus was reached after President Salva Kiir met with Sudan’s deputy leader of the Transitional Sovereign Council Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo in Juba over the matter, in response to an outcry over the incident.

They later announced the two had agreed to form a joint team of investigators, as well as a response force made up of soldiers from both countries, to protect civilians. However, the findings of the committee are yet to be made public.

Disputed area

Abyei is a contested border town between Sudan and South Sudan. The two countries are yet to agree on the flow of the border since secession of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011.

Last year, the UNISFA warned of the possibility of renewed clashes despite the ongoing peace efforts in the area.

UNISFA was deployed in June 2011 to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, and protect the area from incursions by unauthorised militants. Civil society groups, however, said the area was attacked mostly because the UN forces did not counter it.

There are 3,550 soldiers, 640 police personnel, including 148 individual police officers and three formed police units deployed in Abyei. As is tradition with most blue helmets, they are non-combat troops meant to defend civilians and prevent occurrence of violence.

The UNISFA, whose headquarters are located in Abyei town, operates in three Sectors; Sector North, Sector Central and Sector South with Sector headquarters at Diffra, Abyei town area, and Athony, respectively.

South Sudan and Sudan are yet to agree on a joint administration, including a police force, for the Abyei area.

The area has faced occasional violence and cattle rustling incidents.

In 2019, the Undersecretary of the UN Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, called on South Sudan and Sudan to use their cordial bilateral relations to resolve the status of the Abyei region.