Not all Good News From South Sudan

The man the International Criminal Court acuses of having facilitated the Darfur genocide by plying arms to militias allied with the Sudanese government may be doing the same thing in the Abyei region.

As Southern Sudanese took to the polls in an independence referendum yesterday, violence broke out in the restive Abyei region — a disputed region between the central government in Khartoum and the South.  Several dozen people were killed, but what exactly happened depends very much on who you ask.  Here’s what the Southern Sudanese say transpired. From the AP:

Col. Philip Aguer, the spokesman for Southern Sudan’s army, said that the Misseriya — an Arab tribe that moves its cattle herds through Abyei — attacked the village of Maker-Adhar on Sunday with anti-tank weapons and artillery. Aguer said he believes the attack was planned.

“They were not with cattle, they were coming for (an) attack,” Aguer said.

Aguer said the Misseriya were accompanied by uniformed militia men known as the Popular Defense Forces, a militia backed by the Sudanese government in Khartoum whose existence was outlawed by the 2005 peace agreement that ended the 1983-2005 north-south civil war.

And the other view:

Bashtal Mohammed Salem, a Misseriya leader, told the AP that 10 Misseriya herders were killed Sunday in attacks by police in an area about 10 miles (30 kilometers) north of Abyei. Maker-Adhar, where Aguer reported the police deaths, is in the same general area.

“They want to keep us out of the area and declare independence unilaterally,” he said. Salem said leaders of the Dinka, a southern tribe, and Misseriya agreed no more attacks would happen.

What is particularly troubling about these clashes is the involvement of one Ahmed Haroun.  He currently serves as the governor of the South Kordofan province, which buttresses Abyei.  But he is better known internationally as a man for whom the International Criminal Court has an outstanding arrest warrant for acting as the organizational brains behind the genocide in Darfur.

There will be a separate to determine the statys of Abyei. That vote was originally planned to take place this week, but has been delayed.   What we are seeing today may be the first salvo of election-related violence.  And given the cast of characters on the ground you can’t eliminate the prospect of genocidal violence from being visited upon the people of Abyei.

This is something to watch very closely.