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Cablegate: Splm Anger Following May 20 Battle in Abyei

VZCZCXRO9723
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #0787/01 1421347
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 211347Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0892
RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 000787

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
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF EAID MOPS KPKO SU
SUBJECT: SPLM ANGER FOLLOWING MAY 20 BATTLE IN ABYEI

REFS: A. KHARTOUM 782

B. KHARTOUM 774
C. KHARTOUM 772

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The SPLM remains divided over Kiir's decision to
limit SPLA forces from Abyei, and senior leadership, including
Foreign Minister Deng Alor, are among a faction favoring a more
aggressive response. Outrage over SAF conduct intensified following
May 19 SAF interference with the reentry of SPLA JIU forces into the
town and significant SPLA units, backed by armor, are still dug in
nearby. SPLM Political Bureau meeting is tentatively scheduled for
May 22 to decide the SPLM's "final course of action on Darfur,
Abyei, and the NCP/SPLM partnership. Calls for international action
continue. END SUMMARY.

-----------------------
SPLA DUG IN, WITH TANKS
-----------------------

2. (SBU) SPLA JIU and regular SPLA forces under the command of MG
Piang have now fortified defensive positions south of the town, and
possibly North of the Kiir River. Piang is not a member of the Abyei
JIU, however, he was a member of the joint patrol conducting by the
Joint Defense Board and AJMC patrol that sustained direct fire from
SAF forces on May 17. ConGen sources report that elements from the
SPLA's 3rd and 7th Divisions have been deployed south and east of
Abyei since May 16. The SPLA established an early warning force on
the northern side of the Kiir River and placed a flanking force
south of the river which observers believe is to be used to maintain
positive control of strategic points along the river. SPLA MG Piang
(brother of GOSS Minister for Presidential Affairs Luka Bing Deng)
commands the 7TH Division and, like Luka, is a local Ngok Dinka from
Abyei descended from a famed local chief.

----------------------------------
EMBITTERED FONMIN READY FOR BATTLE
----------------------------------

3. (SBU) ConGen staff discussed with GNU Foreign Minister Deng Alor
shortly following Al Jazeera's initial reports that fighting had
resumed. A fuming Alor, in the midst of directing staff to get
additional updates, claimed unprovoked SAF reinforcements had
attacked SPLA JIU forces along the Kiir river. Following the
repulse of the SAF attack, SPLA units mortared the SAF garrison in
Abyei town. Deng asserted this was a targeted SPLA attack against a
known SAF target conducted so as to minimize collateral damage and
prevent further SAF incursions out of Abyei town. "Can you imagine
if the SAF had crossed the river into the area now filled with the
displaced? It would have been disastrous."

------------------------------------
ALOR: NO JOINT TALKS WITH WILLIAMSON
------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Pressed on whether Kiir's order for restraint had been
reversed, Alor said no, but debated why it should stand in the face
of SAF belligerence. "For years the NCP and SAF do things like this
on Abyei and no one does anything. We should just move the SPLA in
now and accept the risk should there be blame," he argued. CG staff
countered that the SPLM needed to remain vigilant in its actions,
and not make any moves that would complicate U.S. efforts to assist
in expediting a comprehensive solution for Abyei.

5. (SBU) Alor stated there was no possibility that the SPLM would
join the NCP at the table. "We will meet America one-on-one, but
there is no more space for compromise in the partnership." In tones
that evoked the Fall 2007 SPLM ministerial-level boycott of the GNU,
Alor noted that the SPLM will have its inaugural post-Convention
Political Bureau meeting on May 22 to determine a path on Abyei and
"fine-tune our position on Darfur." (NOTE: Alor's comments on the
Special Envoy's visit do not match those of GOSS Presidential
Affairs Minister Luka Biong Deng. Undoubtedly, this will have to be
discussed further among Kiir's inner circle as Abyei continues to
unfold. END NOTE.) There is no consensus party position right now on
dialogue with the NCP.

--------------
A DIVIDED SPLM
--------------

6. (SBU) Alor said that Kiir's decision to restrain the SPLA is
dividing the party, and delegates at SPLM National Convention point
out that while the convention was delayed for events in Omdurman,
Kiir has not taken similar steps in Abyei's wake. CG staff
emphasized USG understanding with Kiir's difficult position, and
requested that the SPLM closely coordinate with the USG as

KHARTOUM 00000787 002 OF 002


decisions are made over the coming days. Alor was decidedly
non-committal, allowing that while space for dialogue existed at the
political level, "we won't waste time talking about military issues,
we will just take action." Despite this, the Foreign Minister was
nonetheless grateful for the American audience, saying he had just
complained to the UK Ambassador that "only America was active on
Abyei through sanctions and like." Returning to the subject of
Williamson's visit, Alor called U.S. assistance in restraining SAF
reinforcements, and making the case to Khartoum that it should not
regard the River Kiir as a buffer zone between combatants, but Abyei
town itself. "The CPA clearly states there are to be no forces in
Abyei town but the Joint Integrated Units," he said.

--------------------------------------------- ---
DISILLUSIONMENT WITH THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. (SBU) SPLM Abyei Administrator Edward Lino was similarly
enervated, pausing to talk amidst radio interviews. "The focus
cannot be on today," he stressed, "but on the larger problem." Lino
maintained that SAF reinforcements entered Abyei town one hour after
fighting began, emphasizing that their proximity to the conflict was
a CPA violation in itself. Heglig is part of the ceasefire zone
established by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement - SAF troops are
not permitted to be there. "Yet the world watches the build up, and
watches delays in redeployment, and says nothing." Acting CG
reiterated USG efforts to date and request Lino's assistance in
securing additional time for action despite building pressures for
an outright military confrontation. "We watch who comes to us
first," he replied, "and your request will be passed on."

-------
COMMENT
-------

8. (SBU) May 10 of this year saw the SAF and SPLA making common
cause to defend Khartoum from a JEM rebel raid. That sense of
unity, no matter how uncomfortable for the NCP, has been erased by
the events in Abyei. The impatience of key elements of the SPLM
with the international community's perceived failure to act on the
drawn-out Abyei issue and on what the SPLM sees as the NCP's
flagrant and continuing violations of the CPA is growing. SPLM and
SPLA officials complain that the SAF 31st Brigade has been in Abyei
for over 30 years and remains there in violation of the CPA, and ask
why the presence (in compliance with the CPA) of the SPLA JIU
contingent is an issue. Additional work will be required to rebuild
SPLM faith in bilateral negotiations slated for May 30-June 2, and
keeping the SPLM in the GNU will remain a constant challenge. Even
before this confrontation, the inexorable inertia towards separation
methodically builds year after year.

FERNANDEZ

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