Situation 'desperate' in Sudanese border region

A church elder has warned of the deteroriating humanitarian situation in Abyei, a contested region lying between Sudan and South Sudan.

Abyei has been occupied by Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) since last May after months of delays to its referendum on self determination.

The referendum was part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended decades of civil war in 2005.

It had been due to take place on the same day as South Sudan voted for independence in January last year.

Now the disputed region is in political and military stalemate, and the vast majority of the 130,000 Ngok Dinka residents who fled the fighting last year are still unable to return to their homes.

Dr Zechariah Bol Deng, a senior elder of the Ngok Dinka tribe, said, “Currently, people are still suffering, there are thousands living under trees near the river, unable to return to their homes due to the presence of the SAF in Abyei, and with very limited resources.

"The presence of the troops means that people are afraid to return to Abyei, and their situation is getting more and more desperate.

"Children are dying of preventable diseases and only a limited number of relief agencies are able to reach them.”

Forces from the SAF and the Sudan People's Liberation Army were both due to leave the region by last September. While the SPLA has fully withdrawn, SAF troops have yet to do so.

Mervyn Thomas, Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive, said, “It is unacceptable that SAF continues to occupy Abyei despite the UN agreement.

"It is even more unacceptable that over 100,000 people continue to eke out an existence in such lamentable conditions due to this occupation.

"The international community must press the Government of Sudan to honour the agreement to withdraw from Abyei and allow the postponed referendum to take place."

A UN interim security force has been sent to Abyei tasked with restoring peace. However Mr Thomas said it would have to become "more proactive" in securing peace in the area before the people of Abyei could return to their homes.

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