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Sudan offensive sparks crisis, displaces 110,000

Thousands of residents have fled North Sudan’s offensive that captured the disputed Abyei region. As urgent talks began to try and defuse the situation, 110,000 people face a humanitarian crisis.

Having occupied Abyei, Northern Sudan claimed that it had ceased military operations in the region.

A column of northern Sudanese tanks and troops rolled into Abyei last week after weeks of hit-and-run clashes between northern and southern forces, sparking the worst crisis since South Sudanese overwhelming voted for independence.

South Sudan is due to declare independence on July 19 after a successful referendum in January this year, but the fate of Abyei remains uncertain after a referendum on the question was shelved. 

The town is located (and administered from) within North Sudan, but most of the population consists of Southern Sudanese. For the past few years it has been governed by a joint body, comprising northerners and southerners.

An estimated 110,000 people lived in the town till last week, but now few remain, UNMIS, the UN Mission in Sudan, reports.

Humanitarian organizations in Abyei have had their offices ransacked and stocks of emergency relief items looted, the UN said, adding that many aid workers have left the area because of insecurity.

Dominic Deng, commissioner of Twic county in Warrap state, about 80 miles from Abyei town, announced that 80,000 people have arrived after fleeing their homes, and said conditions for the displaced was getting worse.

"They are sleeping under the trees. They need food and water ... some people are dying," he told Reuters.

Northern Sudan claims it acted only after the south's Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) moved unauthorised forces into the disputed region in violation of a 2005 peace agreement.

"The Sudanese armed forces control Abyei and are cleansing it of illegal forces," Amin Hassan Omar, a minister of state for presidential affairs, told reporters after meeting a delegation of the UN Security Council in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

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