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Cablegate: Abyei Remains Quiet May 21, but Tempers Remain Raw

VZCZCXRO9697
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #0786/01 1421324
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 211324Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0890
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 000786

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/SPG, S/CRS, SE WILLIAMSON
NSC FOR HUDSON AND PITTMAN
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: ABYEI REMAINS QUIET MAY 21, BUT TEMPERS REMAIN RAW

REF: A. KHARTOUM 782

B. KHARTOUM 775
C. KHARTOUM 774
D. KHARTOUM 772

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Abyei is reported to be relatively quiet but
tense on May 21. Based on confirmed information, any of the
previously reported accounts from both the SAF and the SPLA on how
the most recent fighting started remain plausible. In speeches on
May 20 and May 21, GoSS President Kiir defended the actions of the
SPLA, blamed the SAF for the fighting, and promised "if no agreement
is to be reached, I will take action." The AEC Chair has convened a
meeting to take place in Juba on May 22 and CDA Fernandez will
accompany him. END SUMMARY.

Quiet, but Tense
- - - - - - - - -
2. (SBU) The situation in Abyei appears to be relatively quiet, but
tense on May 21. According to SPLA JIU sources, the SPLA pulled
back to the Kiir river (ref a). Unidentified firing was heard in
the distance and (presumably SAF) aircraft were heard overhead.
There are reports from various sources that the Bailey bridge over
the Kiir River south of Abyei has been destroyed. (Note: The Kiir
River is shallow and can easily be crossed during the dry season.
It will become a more formidable barrier as the rainy season
advances. End note.)

Origin of Latest Fighting Remains Obscure
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
3. (SBU) The cause of the May 20 SAF-SPLA battle remains unclear.
At this point, the only established facts are that some SPLA element
entered Abyei town early on May 20 and clashed with the SAF. A
determined and heavy SPLA response, including tanks, drove the SAF
from the town, then the SPLA withdrew to the river Kiir. On May 21,
an UNMIS official told ConGen Juba staff that, based on the
information currently available to him, any of the accounts reported
(including the version given to the CDA by MFA U/S Mutrif Siddiq)
are plausible, although he personally thought the version given by
SPLA Chief of Staff Oyei Deng Ajak (i.e., that the SPLA JIU unit had
attempted to reenter Abyei and been attacked by the SAF, triggering
the SPLA response) sounded most likely. News reports claim 22 SAF
soldiers were killed and 45 wounded which seems to strengthen the
idea that SAF was caught by surprise.

Kiir: "A Clear Violation of the CPA"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
4. (U) GoSS President (and GNU First Vice President) Salva Kiir
Mayardit addressed the recent incident in speeches both to the SPLM
national convention late May 20 and to the SPLA anniversary
celebration May 21. Kiir told the SPLM convention that there were
no SPLA forces in Abyei the previous day, but that the SAF attacked
South Sudan police there. He charged that the SAF 31st Brigade then
was advancing to cross the Kiir River and was threatening the IDPs
on the south side when the SPLA intervened and drove them back.
(Note: This version corresponds with that of FM Deng Alor). Kiir
reported that the SAF had suffered 20 KIA (including one colonel)
and numerous WIA. He did not state SPLA casualties. He credited
good SPLA discipline and leadership with stopping their pursuit and
returning to their positions on the river. He concluded that the
SPLA will not attack, but that it will defend itself and the IDPs.

"Our Patience Has Its Limits"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
5. (U) Kiir told a crowd of thousands at the SPLA rally (and
carried live on local media) that the SAF's behavior has been "a
clear violation of the CPA," adding that the current situation in
Abyei stems from inaction and non-implementation of the CPA's Abyei
Protocol. He charged that the SAF had attacked civilians inside
Abyei town on May 14 and now had tried to pursue them where they had
fled for safety. "Just as violence has been condemned in Darfur, so
too the world should condemn SAF action in Abyei." He said he still
is awaiting a satisfactory response from President Bashir on
promises made last week to ease the situation. Kiir concluded, "If
no agreement is to be reached, I will take action."

6. (U) In his speech to the rally, SPLA Chief of Staff Ajak
reviewed a list of alleged SAF aggression since 2006. He called on
both parties to renew their commitment to the CPA with "sincerity
and honesty," but added "we cannot allow the present situation to
continue - our patience, Mr. Chairman, has its limits."

AEC Will Convene in Juba
- - - - - - - - - - - -
7. (SBU) Assessment and Evaluation Committee (AEC) Chairman Derek
Plumbly has scheduled a special plenary meeting of the AEC in Juba
to discuss the Abyei situation on May 22. CDA Fernandez will attend

KHARTOUM 00000786 002 OF 002


if flights allow, if not CG staff will represent the U.S. at the
session.

Comment
- - - -
8. (SBU) The fighting has stopped for now, but the rhetoric has
gained in tempo. Tempers remain extremely raw. President Kiir and
General Deng Ajak emphasized to the SPLA anniversary celebration
that the SPLM's patience with the Abyei's unresolved status has
reached its limit and if an acceptable solution is not found soon,
it will "act unilaterally".

FERNANDEZ

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