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Cablegate: Heavy Fighting in Abyei May 20 Eventially Dies Down, Calls

VZCZCXRO9366
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #0782/01 1420808
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 210808Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0884
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 000782

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/SPG, S/CRS, SE WILLIAMSON
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN
ADDIS ABABA ALSO FOR USAU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EAID MOPS KPKO SU
SUBJECT: HEAVY FIGHTING IN ABYEI MAY 20 EVENTIALLY DIES DOWN, CALLS
FOR INTERNATIONAL ACTION

REF: A. KHARTOUM 775 B. KHARTOUM 774 C. KHARTOUM 772 D. KHARTOUM 762
E. KHARTOUM 745 F. KHARTOUM 737

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Heavy fighting took place in Abyei May 20
between SAF and SPLM forces. Each side accuses the other of an
unprovoked attack. A tense calm returned later in the day, with
both sides back in their original positions. SPLM officials
complained that President Kiir is under intense pressure to reverse
his public May 15 order for SPLA restraint and that they are
frustrated by the failure of international partners to act. A UN
official told CG Juba that the international community must take a
strong stand immediately to finally end the Abyei or the situation
will spin entirely out of control. END SUMMARY.

Battle in Abyei
- - - - - - - -
2. (SBU) According to UNMIS, early on May 20 SPLA forces entered
Abyei town and by 0830 had occupied what remained of the town after
previous fighting. SAF responded by attacking and driving the SPLA
out, but in turn were themselves ejected by the SPLA, including
tanks. Following their defeat of the SAF, the SPLA evacuated the
town and returned to positions on the Kiir river (this roughly
confirms what MFA U/S told CDA Fernandez early on May 20). At some
point in the afternoon, SAF aircraft, including Antonov "bombers"
appeared, circling the town but did not actually bomb, despite
rumors to the contrary.

SAF "Livid"
- - - - -
3. (SBU) MFA U/S Mutriff Siddiq called CDA Fernandez May 20 to
inform him of renewed fighting in Abyei (which was widely reported
an Al-Jazeera) which Mutriff said was instigated by an SPLA surprise
attack on the SAF's 31st brigade at 5:00 a.m. the morning of May 20
(Ref A). The SPLA reportedly took control of the SAF base and
killed six SAF soldiers - two officers including a colonel and four
enlisted. Siddiq said the SAF and the NCP are livid and have
attempted to call the SPLM/A, "but of course all their phones are
off."

GoSS: We Only Acted Defensively
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (SBU) SPLM/SPLA sources in Juba told ConGen staff a somewhat
different story than the NCP and UNMIS on the same day. According
to both GNU Foreign Minister Deng Alor and SPLM Abyei representative
Edward Lino, SAF forces tried to drive the SPLM JIU contingent away
from the Kiir river bridge and the SPLA "defended itself". Deng
Alor stated that the SAF attempted to cross the river an advance
toward the area where tens of thousands of IDPs have gathered,
following their flight from Abyei town. Both agreed that after
having driven off the SAF attack, the SPLA mortared the town itself,
targeting the SAF cantonment in a former secondary school (the base
for SAF 31st Brigade).

5. (SBU) SPLA Chief of Staff told Conoffs a somewhat different and
more nuanced version, but agreed that the SAF initially attacked the
SPLA JIU unit. According to Oyei, the CJMC agreed May 20 that the
SPLA JIU unit should return to its cantonment in Abyei town and the
UN agreed to provide transportation. They coordinated with the SAF
in Abyei, who were open to the SPLA's return. Shortly before the
SPLA was to move back into the town, the SAF called and said that
they had received orders from higher headquarters not to allow the
SPLA back into Abyei and to resist them if they tried to enter. At
this point the UN backed-out of transporting the SPLA, but the SPLA
commander decided to proceed anyway. Oyei suggested that the local
commander was authorized by SPLA headquarters in Juba to do so and
did not just do this on his own authority. The SPLA returned to
their cantonment in the town and began to entrench when they were
attacked by the SAF. At some point, they withdrew back to the River
Kiir, where they remain, according to Oyei. He suggested that this
happened after the arrival of four SAF aircraft, two Antonov bombers
and two helicopter gunships. "This was simply our attempt to
redeploy the JIU - we will not be trying it again. We have dug in
outside the town, but this is strictly a defensive posture," he
said.

6. (SBU) Contrary to Mutriff's account, Oyei said that the SPLA in
Juba has been talking to the SAF in Khartoum, as the SPLA JIU in
Abyei had been communicating earlier with the SAF there. The SAF in
Abyei said they were following orders from above. Khartoum claimed
that local SPLA commanders had gotten out of hand, were acting on
their own authority, and that Khartoum would straighten them out.
Oyei doubted SAF headquarters' sincerity.

SPLM Frustration Growing
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
7. (SBU) FM Deng Alor admitted that President Kiir's decision to
restrain the SPLA has divided the party, and delegates at SPLM
National Convention complained that while the convention was delayed
for events in Omdurman, Kiir has not taken similar steps in Abyei's
wake. The Foreign Minister was nonetheless grateful for the
American audience, noting he had just complained to the UK
Ambassador that "only America was active on Abyei through sanctions,
statements and like."

8. (SBU) In all three meetings with SPLM/SPLA officials, ConGen
Staff underscored USG calls for restraint, reviewed the Special
Envoy's plan to reach out to Kiir and NCP officials, and urged the
SPLA to abide by President Kiir's order so that the U.S. could
assist the parties in implementing a lasting, just solution to the
Abyei impasse.

International Community Must Take a Stand
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
9. (SBU) In a May 19 conversation with foreign diplomats, including
Congen Juba staff, UNDP Peace and Development Advisor Ferdinand von
Hapsburg, a long-time incisive observer of the South, said that he
is extremely concerned about Abyei and argued that the international
community needs to weigh in with a strong joint statement expressing
their concern and including calls for: 1.) lowering the rhetoric
on both sides, 2.) a mutual withdrawal by the SPLA and the SAF, 3.)
disbanding of militias, and 4.) prompt establishment of an Abyei
administration.

10. (SBU) Hapsburg said that he is very worried that the situation
is getting totally out of control; that as Abyei remains unresolved,
the hardliners, in the NCP, the SPLM, the Dinka Ngoc and the
Misseriya communities are gaining the upper hand and that the
moderate leaders who have cooled things down so far are losing their
credibility and will be drowned out. Each flare up makes an eventual
compromise harder to achieve.

11. (SBU) Hapsburg argued that the international community needs to
lay down a strong marker on Abyei immediately, first because if it
does not, it will send a message to the NCP that it can continue to
let the problem fester and that the outside world does not care.
Second, it will send a message to the SPLM likewise that the outside
world does not care and that it will have to act unilaterally (and
militarily) to resolve the issue. In a separate conversation, an
AMCIT advisor to the SPLM told Conoffs that he believes that the
SPLM does not want to do the "wrong" thing in Abyei, but following
what happened last week it is under tremendous pressure to do
something, right or wrong, if no one else does.

Comment
- - - -

12. (SBU) Although the precise details of the fighting May 20 remain
murky, it is clear that both sides played a role in the escalation
of violence. The situation in Abyei the morning of May 21 is
relatively calm, however tensions could flare at any moment. Calls
made by Special Envoy Williamson to both parties late on May 20
should help calm the situation. Continued engagement on Abyei will
be necessary to avoid further conflict.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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