Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, gave northern troops the order to attack southern forces if provoked. This is based on the dispute between the north and south over Abyei, a fertile region that is located near several oil fields; both regions are claiming the ownership of Abyei. Northern tanks and soldiers rolled into the disputed region Saturday following the attack on a northern army convoy Thursday, raising fears the dispute could trigger a return to civil war in Africa’s largest nation.
An estimate of 40,000 people have been displaced. Mostly southern-supporting Dinka Ngok people, have fled across the border into the south, with houses set on fire and property looted in the northern-controlled areas. A monitoring group said satellite images indicated evidence of “war crimes” committed by the northern army.
Officials say gunmen from an Arab tribe fired on four U.N. helicopters taking off from a disputed border town at the heart of the new north-south conflict.
President Omar al-Bashir said his troops do not need permission from Khartoum to attack southern forces if they feel provoked, the state news agency SUNA said. He accused the U.S. of double standards because he said it protested loudly over the occupation of Abyei by the north, but less loudly over the preceding attack on northern troops and U.N. forces.
Southern Sudan voted in January to separate from the north, and it is scheduled to declare independence in July. But the north’s occupation of Abyei has greatly strained north-south relations. The two regions fought a two-decade-plus civil war that claimed 2 million lives.
The south has called the move into Abyei an act of war but has not yet responded with force. Its army is far weaker than the north’s and it fears endangering its upcoming independence.
A referendum on Abyei’s future was supposed to have been held simultaneously, but the two sides could not agree on who was eligible to vote, and Abyei’s referendum wasn’t held. The black African tribe of the Ngok Dinka, which is allied with the south, and the Arab tribe of Misseriya, which is allied with the north, both claim the area.
The U.S. has said it would reward al-Bashir’s government for a successful southern independence process by removing Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terror, helping it get relief for its debt burden and normalizing relations with the U.S. Princeton Lyman, Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan, said this week that those rewards are in jeopardy if the independence process is not completed.
But al-Bashir indicated he was no longer interested in those items.
“We no longer fear the American stick nor do we desire its carrots,” Sudan’s news agency quoted him as saying.