As if the fighting in Libya and the threat of civil war in Ivory Coast were not enough, the situation in Sudan is becoming more militarized along the disputed border between North and South Sudan.
There has been a buildup of military forces along the Abyei border area and violence has displaced some 20,000 people. It appears the area is edging closer to a conflict between the North and South. There are significant oil deposits in the Abyei area and the border between the two sides has not been officially agreed upon.
As South Sudan moves closer to its independence in July there is a growin chance that fighting will break out between the North and South over control of the border area and the oil deposits.
The worrying buildup of the military has been well documented by George Clooney's Satellite Sentinel Project which today released new images confirming the movement of additional forces backed by the Government of Sudan into the contested Abyei region. The latest images reveals fortified camps inside Abyei near the villages of Bongo, Goli and Diffra, according to the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative's analysis of the DigitalGlobe satellite imagery. These are the three locations where the North's National Congress Party reportedly deployed as many as 1,500 police in the past week.
"Increased reinforcements inside Abyei are exacerbating an already dire situation, not contributing to a solution," said John Bradshaw, executive director of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group based in Washington, D.C. "Both parties need to deescalate and ensure access to international peacekeepers, and follow through on their commitments to securing a political settlement on the Abyei area."
The border regions of North and South Sudan remain tense in the wake of this month's attacks on the Abyei villages of Maker Abior, Todach and Tajalei, which displaced of some 20,000 civilians.The Satellite Sentinel Project's previous reports confirmed that the villages were razed by forces allegedly aligned with the Government of Sudan, and that armed forces aligned with North and South Sudan, respectively, have moved into the oil-producing and fertile region.
Recently, the South's Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has clashed with rebels allegedly aligned with the North's Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in skirmishes in Sudan's Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states.
The areas reportedly occupied by northern police forces fall within the disputed boundaries of the Abyei area, according to a July 2009 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.
“Satellite imagery confirms reports of the deployment of large numbers of northern forces as well as newly fortified encampments. This should be sounding alarms about the human security of all civilians in Abyei,” said Charlie Clements, Director of Human Rights Documentation of the Satellite Sentinel Project, and Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School.
The Satellite Sentinel Project's report, "Abyei Incursion: Evidence of Northern-Aligned Forces Deployed to Abyei Region, Sudan," concludes: "The movement of additional northern-backed forces within 75 kilometers of Abyei town heightens the human security risk in the Abyei region, even as negotiations between Northern and Southern Sudanese representatives resumed on March 17, 2011."
The Satellite Sentinel Project is working to prevent the resumption of full-scale war between North and South Sudan by documenting troop and arms movements using satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google’s Map Maker.
Initial funding for the satellite project was provided by Clooney's Hollywood activist group, Not On Our Watch, whose members include Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Jerry Weintraub and David Pressman.
Enough Project contributes field reports and policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch and Sudan Now, pressures policymakers by urging the public to act.
UNITAR/UNOSAT analyzes satellite images and collaborates with Google and Trellon to design the web platform. Harvard Humanitarian Initiative provides research and leads the collection, human rights analysis, and corroboration of on-the-ground reports that contextualizes the imagery. DigitalGlobe provides satellite imagery and additional analysis.