Tanks and attack helicopters have been spotted near the volatile Abyei region of Sudan, escalating concerns that northern and southern forces are engaging in a mass buildup of weaponry as negotiations between the sides continue to stagnate. New satellite images, obtained by the Satellite Sentinel Project, showed what appear to be nine northern armored tanks, attack helicopters, pickup trucks and a fixed-wing airplane that have been positioned in the contested area over the past two months. Northern and southern Sudanese have fought for years over Abyei, a section of oil-endowed land spanning the country’s regions and religions. As southern Sudanese independence inches closer, fighting has escalated between ethnic southern and northern tribes in the area. “Abyei is the critical linchpin in the country’s peaceful transition into two Sudans,” said Eliza Griswold, senior fellow at the New America Foundation. In March, the Satellite Sentinel Project published images depicting the destruction of a village near Abyei that had reportedly been burned to the ground. On Thursday, the project said that militarization of the region had escalated to the point where Sudan’s national army was positioning its own weapons along the border.
Excerpt, JOSH KRON, Satellite Photos Show Weaponry in Sudan, New York Times, April 7, 2011. Satellite Sentinel Project
The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has released new satellite imagery confirming the intentional burning of a third village, Tajalei, in Sudan’s Abyei region, in addition to the deliberate destruction since March 2 of the villages of Maker Abior and Todach. At least 300 buildings at Tajalei were intentionally destroyed by fire, according to Satellite Sentinel Project analysis of the DigitalGlobe satellite image, taken March 6 and analyzed by UNITAR/UNOSAT and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, with additional analysis by DigitalGlobe. Roughly two-thirds of those buildings appear to be consistent with civilian residential structures, known as tukuls.
George Clooney, who conceived of the Satellite Sentinel Project during a trip to Southern Sudan with Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast, stated:”The Satellite Sentinel Project is the first to confirm the widespread and systematic targeting of civilian infrastructure across the Abyei region…Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast stated:”Satellite imagery combined with on-the-ground analysis is pointing to a deliberate attempt to subvert peace efforts by elements associated with the Khartoum government. By trying to displace Dinka residents from parts of Abyei, the case is strengthened to further divide the Abyei region between North and South. If mediators and concerned governments acquiesce to this strategy, it would legitimize local population clearing efforts and would be a recipe for a wider war.”
On Friday, SSP released a report, “Flashpoint: Abyei,” documenting a significant increase in military activity by apparent Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in South Kordofan state, as well as apparent Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) buildup south of Abyei. The continuing militarization of this tense region, including evidence of battle tanks and other heavy equipment, has contributed to an already volatile situation. The SSP images, taken by DigitalGlobe, confirm widely reported attacks on multiple villages in the Abyei region since Sunday, February 27. Sources on the ground report the fighting may have begun between armed Misseriya and southern police, but that elements of the Popular Defense Force militias, historically supported by the Sudanese Armed Forces, participated in the attacks…
Excerpt, Sudan: Satellite Sentinel Project Confirms Intentional Burning of Third Village in Contested Abyei Region, AllAfrica.com, Mar. 7, 2011