By Akanimo Sampson
A seeming protracted Oil War has left no fewer than 33 people dead, an uncertain number of children missing, and 4,000 citizens displaced in a South Sudan community that is near Abyei town.
Aid workers in the troubled area say the 33 people killed include women and children, and an unknown number wounded during an attack in Kolom, that is nine kilometres from Abyei town the previous Wednesday.
Humanitarian agencies are also claiming that an unknown number of children were abducted during the bloody incident.
Abyei town is, however, a north-south border town currently in the Abyei Area that is disputed by Sudan and South Sudan. The United Nations estimated that the town’s population is at around 20,000 previous to May 2011 events.
The oil-bearing and fertile Abyei Area, with Abyei town as its centre, is a disputed territorial point of contention in the July 2011 secession of South Sudan process.[
Some 50,000 of Abyei Town’s inhabitants, mostly Dinka fled southwards to Agok in Southern Sudan. Since the signing of the roadmap for the return of the displaced and the implementation of the Abyei Protocol in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, much of the town was rebuilt by mid-2009.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Chief of Mission in South Sudan, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, said “we are deeply saddened by the loss of life as a consequence of the events which have taken place in Kolom over the last week. We work with these communities and it is heart-breaking to witness what happened.”
A rapid interagency assessment conducted on January 24, revealed that nearly 4,000 people fled to Abyei town. The IOM missions in South Sudan and Sudan in partnership with the UN and international humanitarian partners have initiated a response.
Seventy households were provided with immediate humanitarian assistance, such as blankets, bedsheets and sleeping mats, jerricans, soap, plastic tarpaulins and rubber ropes for constructing temporary shelters.
However, there are roughly 3,600 people at five other locations in Abyei town who still require urgent assistance. With support from the Core Pipeline Unit, IOM South Sudan’s central repository of relief supplies, more relief items including mosquito nets and solar lamps are being sent from Juba to Abyei by air and road this week.
IOM said it is also coordinating Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) assistance and started the construction of emergency latrines at Abyei boys secondary school where the majority of an estimated 230 households from Kolom are sheltering.
IOM South Sudan Programme Coordinator, Asar Ul Haq, said “in situations like these, we know that people flee in different directions. So far, our immediate response has only reached families displaced in Abyei centre, but we intend to support all households affected by this tragedy and the findings from the joint assessment will shed light on what help is needed, and where.”
IOM has been working in the four counties that form the Abyei ‘box’ since 2010, responding to humanitarian emergencies and working with local communities, primarily the Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka, to mitigate conflict and build social cohesion between the two groups.
Due to long-standing tensions, violent clashes between the agro-pastoralist Ngok Dinka and the nomadic cattle-herding Misseryia, whose seasonal grazing routes run through Abyei, have led to several waves of displacement of the Ngok Dinka community and the destruction of public infrastructure.
“The recent attacks cast a dark cloud over efforts to hold a cattle migration conference intended to search for common ground for the amicable co-existence of the Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka, and to find solutions to mitigate fighting over the migration corridor and cattle raiding”, said Chauzy.
IOM South Sudan transitional and recovery activities including flood response to roughly 8,000 households have had to temporarily halt.
Adding, Chauzy said, “this attack is a huge concern as it also sets back other lifesaving activities in Abyei region.”