East Africa: Juba, Khartoum Agree to Form Team to Investigate Abyei Killings

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(File photo).

South Sudan and Sudan on Friday agreed to form a joint team to look into violent clashes in the disputed border area of Abyei that left at least 19 people dead, and dozens other injured, on Wednesday.

President Salva Kiir, responding to an outcry over the incident, met with Sudan's deputy leader of the Transitional Sovereign Council Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo 'Hemedti' in Juba over the matter.

They later announced the two had agreed to form a joint team of investigators, as well as a response force made up of soldiers from both countries to protect civilians.

Tut Gatluak, the presidential advisor on Security Affairs in Juba said the two leaders condemned the Abyei attack and will be deploying a joint protection force to the area, although he didn't state when.

"We strongly condemn what happened in Abyei and we encourage people to resolve matters peacefully. The (local officials) said they have identified the perpetrators and our institutions are working on modalities of forming an investigation committee," he said on state-run SSTV.

For his part, Hamdan revealed that the perpetrators of killings had been identified and will be brought to book.

"There will be an investigation, and the investigation team will comprise of representatives from the two countries to find out how this incident took place, then the perpetrators will be brought to Justice which we want to prevail," said Hamdan.

Abyei is a contested border town between the two countries who are yet to agree on the flow of the border since secession of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011.

This week, the United Nation Interim Security Force for Abyei warned of renewed clashes despite of the on-going peace efforts in the area.

And armed attack reportedly perpetuated by a large number of Misseriya armed men from Sudan launched an offensive on the Dinka in Kolom, near Ngong--about 9 km North West of Abyei left 19 people dead and 30 others injured, according to UNISFA.

However, the peace keeping forces rejected accusations they had looked on as civilians were killed. Instead, the force stressed that it has deployed its troops in the general area of Kolom to control and contain the situation.

UNISFA was deployed in June 2011 to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, and protect the area from incursions by unauthorised militants. Civil society groups, however, said the attack went through mostly because the UN forces did not counter it.

Wani Michael, the CEO of the Okay Africa Foundation, a local relief agency said UNISFA should have been proactive.

"It is very unfortunate when people can be murdered at the watch of UNISFA. The government of South Sudan should take responsibility of protecting civilians if UNISFA has failed in its mandate," he said.

"The government should also investigate the incident and the people involved should face the law."

There are 3,550 soldiers, 640 police personnel, including 148 individual police officers and three formed police units deployed in Abyei. As is tradition with most blue helmets, they are non-combat troops meant to defend civilians and prevent occurrence of violence.

The UNISFA whose headquarters are located in Abyei town operates in three Sectors; Sector North, Sector Central and Sector South with Sector headquarters at Diffra, Abyei town area, and Athony respectively.

South Sudan and Sudan are yet to agree on a joint administration, including a police force for Abyei area.

The area has faced occasional violence and cattle rustling incidents as communities living there move in search of pasture.

Late last year, the Undersecretary of the UN Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, called on South Sudan and Sudan to use their new-found cordial bilateral relations to resolve the status of the Abyei region.

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