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Cablegate: Abyei Update: Fighting Subsides, but Humanitarian Emergency

VZCZCXRO5436
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #0745/01 1361715
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 151715Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0826
RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 000745

DEPT FOR AF/SPG, A/S FRAZER, SE WILLIAMSON
NSC FOR HUDSON AND PITTMAN
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN
ADDIS ABABA ALSO FOR USAU

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF EAID MOPS KPKO SU
SUBJECT: ABYEI UPDATE: FIGHTING SUBSIDES, BUT HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY
LOOMS

REF: KHARTOUM 737

1. (SBU) Summary: Fighting between SAF and SPLA (reftel) subsided
on May 15 and late in the day the sides agreed to a mutual
withdrawal. Casualty numbers from May 13-14 fighting are unknown,
but the town reportedly sustained heavy damage and the UN estimates
that as many as 30,000 people (virtually the entire town) have fled
the fighting and are now in need of emergency humanitarian
assistance. Late May 15, UN Regional Coordinator's Office in Abyei
expressed concern that Misseriya tribesmen may now be massing to
renew the fight. CDA Fernandez and CG Juba officers weighed in on
May 15 in Juba on the margins of the SPLM convention with SPLM Abyei
representative Edward Lino, GNU Foreign Minister (and Ngok Dinka
from Abyei) Deng Alor, and GOSS Minister of Presidential Affairs
Luka Biong Deng to urge restraint from the SPLA and SSPS forces in
the area. FM Alor said he would raise the issue of the Misseriya
tribesmen with GNU First Vice President Taha and GNU Minister of
State Ahmed Haroun (who attended the SPLM convention) immediately
before they departed for Khartoum the afternoon of May 15. End
summary.

2. (SBU) Fighting between SAF and SPLA in Abyei town (reftel)
subsided on May 15. The UN reports that fighting began late May 13
with a localized altercation at an SPLM police outpost outside of
the town that led to the shooting death of one SAF soldier. The
resulting fighting between SAF and SPLA units spread throughout the
town itself, resulting in a mass exodus of the civilian population.
On May 15, the UNMIS Deputy Force Commander traveled to Abyei to
attempt to resolve the dispute and end the fighting permanently. At
a Ceasefire Joint Monitoring Committee (CJMC) meeting late in the
day, SAF and SPLA agreed to pull out of Abyei town to the north and
south respectively.

3. (SBU) The UN reports that, with the exception of three FAO
employees who are stranded in the nearby town of Agok, all UN staff
and international NGO staff now are safe in the UNMIS camp in Abyei
or have been evacuated to Kadugli. The international staff of two
NGOs, GOAL International and Save the Children, who were cutoff in
their compounds on May 14 were successfully evacuated to the UNMIS
camp early on May 15 and at mid-day were awaiting transport by air
to Kadugli.

4. (SBU) The number of casualties sustained in the May 13-14
fighting is unknown, but the town of Abyei reportedly sustained
heavy damage, with the town's market area destroyed by fire. The UN
and USAID partners estimate that virtually the entire population, an
estimated 30,000 people, abandoned the town to escape the fighting.
Most fled toward Agok to the south, but others simply are hiding in
the surrounding countryside.

5. (SBU) The UN already has begun to plan a two-stage relief
operation to assist the newly displaced population, the first being
an emergency humanitarian response to sustain those who have fled
their homes with food, water, and emergency shelter. Once the
situation calms down, the UN expects refugees to start returning to
the town. The UN then plans an emergency reconstruction effort to
repair what infrastructure had existed (Abyei already was badly
neglected, due to the failure of the government in Khartoum to
install a permanent administration) and make the town habitable
again.

6. (SBU) Virtually the entire SPLM leadership, including that of
the Abyei region, is currently in Juba attending the SPLM national
convention. ConGen staff report that on the opening day of the
convention May 15, a number of speeches made reference to Abyei. In
his speech at the convention, SPLM Chairman Salva Kiir noted that
there was fighting in Abyei but that he himself did not know exactly
what was going on. Kiir said that the SPLA is not involved in the
fighting and it's up to the NCP and the SAF to solve it. (Note:
Some contacts in Juba reported that sporadic fighting in Abyei May
15 was between SSPS and SAF, and did not involve the SPLA, but this
has not been confirmed. End note.)

7. (SBU) Late on May 15, the Office of the UN Regional Coordinator
contacted Post to express concern that Misseriya tribesmen from the
north are reported to be massing to enter the fight and requested
that the Embassy reach out to Misseriya contacts to ask them to
refrain. There is an ethnic Misseriya presence in Abyei town and to
the north and it is not unlikely that they or their compatriots may
be responding to rumors. Post will attempt to use its contacts to
calm the situation, but the Misseriya are far from homogenous and
what Misseriya militias may be gathering is unclear at this point.

8. (SBU) Comment: The subsiding of the fighting today provides an
opportunity to reestablish the fragile peace that existed before.

KHARTOUM 00000745 002 OF 002


However, reports that Misseriya may be massing to join in the fight
indicate that the situation is by no means resolved and how easily
things could slide again back into chaos. On the margins of the
SPLM convention, CDA Fernandez informed FM Alor, GOSS Minister of
the Presidency Biong Deng, and SPLM Abyei representative Lino of the
latest information from Abyei. FM Alor said he would speak with GNU
Second Vice President Ali Osman Taha and GNU Minister of State (and
GNU Abyei negotiator) Ahmed Haroun immediately before they departed
Juba for Khartoum in an effort to head off the reported Misseriya
movements. Our sense from these SPLM leaders in Juba is that they
were relatively well informed of events in Abyei, but distracted
with weightier political matters within the SPLM movement - even
Luka Biong Deng and Deng Alor, who are from Abyei.

FERNANDEZ

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