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Cablegate: May 18 Abyei Update: Sporadic Fighting Amidst Efforts To

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OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #0762/01 1400400
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 190400Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0852
RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 000762

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

SENSITIVE
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF EAID MOPS KPKO SU
SUBJECT: MAY 18 ABYEI UPDATE: SPORADIC FIGHTING AMIDST EFFORTS TO
END STRIFE

REFS: A. KHARTOUM 737
B. KHARTOUM 745

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The situation in Abyei remained quiet as of
mid-day May 18, after renewed fighting on May 16-17. SAF remains in
the town, despite a UN-brokered mutual withdrawal agreement with the
SPLA "police forces," which departed the town May 17. The Ceasefire
Joint Monitoring Commission (CJMC) will fly to Abyei May 18 to
attempt to disengage the forces. Despite assurances to VP Kiir,
President Bashir appears either unable or unwilling yet to restrain
SAF units in Abyei. The UN has begun a humanitarian relief effort
for the estimated 106,000 affected people, 50,000 of which are IDPs.
A USAID assessment team is traveling to the region, but USAID
already has begun to plan relief operations, based on information
currently available. END SUMMARY.

Abyei: Fighting on May 16
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
2. (SBU) Despite a May 15 agreement by the SAF and the SPLA on
mutual withdrawal of forces -- and the presence in Abyei of senior
SAF and SPLA/SPLM officials along with the UNMIS Deputy Force
Commander -- to attempt to resolve the crisis, intense mortar and
small arms fire broke out again late May 16, lasting into the early
hours of May 17. UNMIS staff reportedly spent a cold, rainy night
sheltered against the berm surrounding their camp to avoid shell
fire that was falling inside. Zambian peacekeepers in Abyei were
reinforced from Kadugli mid-day May 17. The situation remained
quiet as of mid-day May 18.

3. (SBU) Despite the mutual-withdrawal agreement, Embassy has
received reliable reports that the SAF 31st Brigade remains in Abyei
town, while the SPLA has withdrawn south of the Kiir River.
According to SPLM sources in Juba, the SPLA unit that came under
attack is assigned to the Joint Integrated Unit (JIU) that was to
remain in the town. Several observers in Juba blame the fighting on
irregular forces such as the renegade Southern Sudan Unity Movement,
which reportedly receives support from Khartoum to confront the SPLA
and SSPS in and around Abyei. SSUM is an SPLM splinter group with
years of bad blood between the two organizations. Irregular
Misseriya Arab militia supported by Khartoum also regularly confront
SPLA along the river outside of Abyei town.

Efforts to Restore Calm Flounder
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
4. (SBU) On May 17, the EU Special Envoy told Acting CG Juba that
President Bashir and First Vice President Kiir had spoken by phone
twice during the previous 24 hours. On May 16, Bashir committed to
restrain the SAF and remove the 31st SAF Brigade from Abyei town,
but the outbreak of fighting that evening and the result of the May
17 telcon left Kiir "extremely dissatisfied" and pessimistic about a
speedy resolution to the crisis. Kiir used a May 17 meeting to
request the "joint" AU/Arab League delegation to press Bashir to
meet his May 16 commitments. To date, the SAF has not withdrawn from
Abyei, and GOSS Presidential Affairs Minister Luka Biong Deng
reports the JIU/SAF contingent has become "integrated" with the
independent SAF force splitting the JIU along political lines.

5 (SBU) The Area Joint Military Committee (AJMC) met early May 16
and produced "decisive and comprehensive remedies and confidence
building measures," according to the UN Regional Coordinator. Later
that same day, the SPLM sent a joint civilian/military negotiating
team led by GoSS Minister of Presidential Affairs Luka Biong Deng
(himself an Abyei native) and SPLA JIU Commander LTG. Thomas Cirillo
Oteng to Abyei to meet as a Joint Defense Board (JDB) with Cirillo's
SAF counterparts. Accompanying the SPLM were two unofficial Amcit
advisors. It was following the JDB meeting, as fresh orders were
being relayed to troops in the field, that the SAF renewed its
attack, and Cirillo and company fled Abyei to the safety of Agok.

6. (SBU) The UN Regional Coordinator's office is extremely concerned
that the renewed fighting indicates a deterioration of the
rank-and-file respect for two quite well-established mediation
mechanisms: the AJMC and JDB. The CMCJ was to fly to Abyei on May
18 to try to defuse the security situation and try to disengage the
opposing forces.

Humanitarian Response
- - - - - - - - - - -
7. (SBU) Abyei town is reported to be partially destroyed, looted
and deserted, with columns of displaced people headed both north and
south (more heading south than north). 20,000 are reported to have
congregated in Agok to the south of the river and 13-14,000 in each
of two other villages along the river. The UN estimates a
population of 50,000 will need immediate assistance and that 56,000
additional persons have been affected by the violence and will

KHARTOUM 00000762 002 OF 002


require humanitarian relief. Weather has been cold and rainy,
making a rapid response urgent to prevent outbreaks of disease.

8. (SBU) A UN assessment mission left Khartoum on May 17, spending
the night in Wau and proceeding to Turalai on May 18 from where the
humanitarian response will be launched. Coordination of the
Abyei/Agok response is being handled by the UN Southern Sector out
of Juba.

9. (SBU) According to UNMIS humanitarian officials in Juba, there
are significant humanitarian supplies already available for the
response including: 390 MT of food pre-positionied in Turalei by WFP
with an additional 2,500 MT in Wunruk and 8,000 household kits
available through UNICEF in Aweil. Trucking of supplies from the
various storage points will begin on May 18. Local staff from NGO
partners are on the ground in Agok ready to assist in the
distribution.

10. (SBU) USAID staff in Khartoum are in regular touch with the
Abyei/Agok partners, which include WFP, OCHA, UNICEF, UN Joint
Logistics Center, Save the Children/US, GOAL, Mercy Corps, PADCO,
and PACT. NGOs have staff in the field who can support the
emergency response. A three-person USAID team is scheduled to
depart May 19 to Aweil, and from there will travel to Turalai to
follow up on the humanitarian response and report back on additional
requirements.

Comment
- - - -
11. (SBU) The situation in Abyei remains tenuous. Reports indicate
that the fighting began spontaneously over a localized incident
between SPLA police (also known as SSPS) and a SAF soldier. Given
the prolonged ethnic and political tensions in the region, another
such spark could easily ignite renewed fighting unless the two sides
can be separated. CDA Fernandez will continue to press the GOS to
withdraw the SAF in accordance with this most recent brokered
agreement as well as previous JDB and CJMC agreements. We suggest
that Abyei should be high on the agenda for the upcoming visit of
the Special Envoy, as the GOS should be eager to resolve this crisis
given how badly it has tarnished their image. We also need to
aggressively demonstrate that the US is fully committed to the Abyei
Protocol of the CPA, which we drafted and brokered in Naivasha.

FERNANDEZ

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