|"A Ngok Dinka herder in Abyei, a contested town where the Misseriya, Arab nomads, are pouring in, the United Nations says." (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)|
By Tyler Hicks
The New York Times, May 25, 2011
"After seizing a disputed town on the border of the breakaway region of southern Sudan on Saturday, the army of northern Sudan is now facilitating a relatively large influx of nomadic people into the area, according to new United Nations field reports. United Nations officials said the move could mean that the Sudanese government was trying to 'ethnically cleanse' the area in a bid to change its demographics permanently and annex the town, Abyei, just weeks before southern Sudan was supposed to split from the north and form its own country. As the July target for the south's independence draws near, the battles over Abyei have grown more intense, and the moves by the north have threatened to plunge the two sides into a conflict that diplomats fear could scuttle the carefully choreographed treaty arranging for the south to become the world's newest state. One United Nations official said a northern Sudanese general revealed this week that there was a plan to send 15,000 Misseriya, an Arab and nomadic people, into Abyei in the coming days, which could have a serious impact on Abyei's delicate demographics. Other United Nations officials estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 Misseriya had already entered Abyei town. The Misseriya have a long history of being used by the Sudanese government as proxy forces, and they live in the vast stretches of desert around Abyei, occasionally going into Abyei to graze their animals. Abyei's permanent residents, however, are the Ngok Dinka. Abyei straddles the north-south border and has oil (though a relatively scant amount), and both sides have laid emotional claims to it.
A referendum was supposed to be held this year to decide what the people of Abyei wanted, but it was shelved because of disputes over who could vote. If the Sudanese government is intent on settling thousands of Misseriya in Abyei, the United Nations official said, then last weekend's attack on Abyei 'was planned as ethnic cleansing strategy.' 'Displace the Ngok Dinka residents and bring in Misseriya, then allow the referendum to take place,' said the official, who works closely on Sudan issues but was not authorized to speak publicly. The strategy is akin to what the Sudanese government, based in Khartoum, did several years ago when it sent notorious janjaweed militias sweeping across the Darfur region, at its behest, to capture land belonging to dispossessed ethnic groups that the government was fighting. 'The north has begun to employ the same kind of scorched-earth tactics we saw Khartoum use in Darfur,' said Eliza Griswold, who has closely studied Abyei and is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington. 'All of these battles are brutal struggles for power and resources of land, oil, even water -- waged by any means necessary.' [...]"