John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Sudan: Khartoum Occupies Abyei

by John Campbell
May 23, 2011

Smoke rise from burnt homes in Abyei town, in this handout photo released by the United Nations Mission in Sudan May 23, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

As South Sudan’s official independence approaches on July 9, 2011, the conflict between the North and the South escalated this weekend, culminating in Khartoum’s occupation of Abyei town. This suggests a hardening of the North’s position on Juba and makes an amicable divorce between North and South more difficult. At present, serious fighting in Abyei makes it nearly impossible to address any other issue without first resolving this conflict. Some commentators are even going as far as to suggest this could reignite civil war.

Over the weekend, U.S. special envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman noted that Khartoum’s insistence on continuing to occupy Abyei town will also make it difficult for the United States to normalize relationship with Sudan, including dropping the North from the U.S. terrorism list.

On a side note, commentators often refer to the “oil rich Abyei.” But as reported in a BBC article today, there is not much oil left following an international court’s adjustment in the territory’s borders in 2009 that that left most of the oil to Juba. Instead, the current conflict in the rump state owes more to rival claims by the Juba-leaning Dinka Ngok, who occasionally fought on the side of the (Southern) Sudan People’s Liberation Army, and the Misseriya, who fought on Khartoum’s side during the civil war.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Daniel Leitao

    I just wanted to point out that the BBC article says “The region is often described as “oil-rich”, but after the 2009 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in The Hague, most of the oil fields now fall outside Abyei’s borders.” It does not say the oil was left to Juba. I stand to be corrected, but I believe it’s quite to the contrary. Oilfields, such as Higlig, now belong to the North, which makes all the fuss about Abyei all the more puzzling.

  • Posted by John Campbell

    Thank you for your comment, Daniel. The oil situation in Abyei is puzzling because, as you rightly suggest, the Higlig field is now within the boundaries of northern Sudan’s South Kordofan state, not Abyei.

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