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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Syria, Iraq, Sudan

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  • Zafar Khan
    Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says? President Obama has shown himself to be weak in his dealings with the Middle East, says Robert Fisk, and the Arab
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2011
      Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says?
      President Obama has shown himself to be weak in his dealings with the Middle East, says Robert Fisk, and the Arab world is turning its back with contempt. Its future will be shaped without American influence
      Monday, 30 May 2011


      This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.

      While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington – Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and about America's new role in the region. It was pathetic. "What is this 'role' thing?" an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. "Do they still believe we care about what they think?"

      And it is true. Obama's failure to support the Arab revolutions until they were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region. Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime – which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab "spring", save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain's cruelty and remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence, but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle East who are themselves now making the decisions.


      Rights Groups: 63 Dead in Syrian Protests
      June 04, 2011


      Syrian rights groups say security forces killed at least 63 people Friday as thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.

      In one of the bloodiest days in 11 weeks of protests, Reuters news agency reports human rights organization Sawasiah said Syrian forces killed 53 demonstrators in Hama.

      Witnesses say security forces used live ammunition to try to disperse tens of thousands of protesters in Hama who took to the streets after Friday prayers.

      Rights groups said 300 people were wounded and hospitals were unable to cope with the large number of patients.

      Hama is where 29 years ago, President Hafez al-Assad, the current president's father, led a brutal crackdown that left at least 10,000 dead.

      Demonstrations also occurred in Damascus and other cities Friday, following a call by opposition groups to denounce a growing number of casualties among children in recent weeks of the uprising against Mr. Assad.

      Despite official denials, protest organizers say at least 25 children have died. The victims include a 13-year-old boy who reportedly was tortured and killed by security forces - an accusation Syrian authorities dispute.

      Unofficial reports say all Internet service stopped in Damascus and several other cities on Friday.

      The latest unrest follows a two day meeting in Turkey of Syrian opposition figures, who called for President Assad's immediate resignation. Opposition figures say they are committed to do whatever is necessary to "bring down" the Assad government and begin planning for new, democratic elections.

      In New York Friday, a spokeswoman for U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon says he called for an immediate end to "violent repression" by Syrian forces and for dialogue that leads to comprehensive reforms in the country.

      'Scores killed' in fresh Syria protests
      Rights group says at least 63 people killed in crackdown by security forces on anti-government protests on Friday.
      Last Modified: 04 Jun 2011 05:29


      Syria: 'Dozens killed' as thousands protest in Hama


      Syrian activists call for 'Children's Friday'
      Anti-Assad demonstrators protest against government brutality, with more than 30 young people dead since March.
      Last Modified: 03 Jun 2011 11:59


      Syrian activists have called for protests on Friday over the dozens of children killed in anti-government protests, as the opposition continues to demand the "immediate resignation" of Bashar al-Assad, the country's president.

      Rejecting government concessions, opposition groups at a meeting in Turkey called late on Thursday for parliamentary and presidential elections within a year of Assad's removal and vowed to work "to bring down the regime".

      Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the international community needs to be more united on dealing with the Syria government's crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.

      "Right now the attitude of the international community is not as united as we are seeking to make it," she said in Washington, apparently alluding to Russia's moves blocking a proposed UN Security Council condemnation of Syria.

      Activists called for "Children's Friday" protests to honour the children killed in the uprising, such as 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib whom activists say was tortured to death, a charge denied by the authorities.

      "The people want the fall of the regime. Tomorrow, it's 'Children's Friday' of rising up against injustice, like the adults," the activists announced on their Facebook page "Syrian Revolution 2011", an engine of the revolt.

      The UN children's agency UNICEF says at least 30 children have been shot dead in the revolt against Assad's autocratic rule which erupted in mid-March.

      Escalating brutality

      The more than 10-week-old revolt in Syria was sparked by the arrest and torture of 15 children and adolescents accused of painting anti-regime graffiti in the southern town of Daraa, which became a flashpoint of the deadly protests.

      "A photo of a child who is dead or being tortured or being mutilated is much more powerful than of an adult," Patrick McCormick, UNICEF spokesman, said, referring to the Facebook campaign focused on the fate of Hamza.

      "The use of Facebook or any image especially of children is incredibly powerful," he told AFP news agency. "They are innocent victims here, they get caught in the middle, it is not their fight."

      McCormick said the situation would worsen with the end of the academic year. "It will leave the children and teenagers more vulnerable because they will be out and about and not sitting in a classroom."

      On the ground, security forces armed with heavy machine guns shot dead 15 civilians in Rastan on Thursday, a human-rights activist said, adding to a toll of at least 43 killed in towns of the flashpoint Homs region since Sunday.

      The UN chief's special advisers on prevention of genocide and responsibility to protect civilian populations expressed alarm on Thursday at the mounting death toll in Syria.

      "We are particularly alarmed at the apparently systematic and deliberate attacks by police, military, and other security forces against unarmed civilians," Francis Deng and Edward Luck, the advisers to Ban Ki-moon, said.

      More than 1,100 civilians have been killed and at least 10,000 arrested in a crackdown on near-daily anti-government demonstrations since March 15, human rights organisations have said.

      The Syrian government insists the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.

      Protesters 'killed' in Syrian town
      Crackdown in Rastan continues, as opposition conference ends with declaration demanding Syrian president's resignation.


      Tortured and killed: Hamza al-Khateeb, age 13
      The mutilation and death in custody of a 13-year-old child has sparked further furious protests in Syrian city of Daraa.
      Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand Last Modified: 31 May 2011 12:11


      Syrians running out of refuge in Lebanon
      Around 5,000 refugees have fled across the border in desperate need of humanitarian aid, overwhelming Lebanese villages.
      Mona Alami Last Modified: 30 May 2011 09:13


      Syrian tanks attack three central towns
      At least five deaths reported as security forces attack anti-government protesters in Talbiseh, Rastan and Homs.
      Last Modified: 29 May 2011 16:22


      Opposition groups in Syria say the army has moved into towns and villages in the centre of the country, killing protesters.

      Residents said on Sunday that troops have stormed the town of Talbiseh, where five people are said to have been killed.

      Tanks have also pushed into Rastan, where it is claimed two people have been shot dead. Meanwhile, in Homs, Syria's third largest city, there are reports that one person was killed when troops opened fire on two bus-loads of students.

      Talbiseh is 10km north of Homs, where tanks shelled a main neighbourhood earlier this month.

      The 10-week-old protests in Syria have evolved from a movement demanding reforms to a resilient uprising that is now seeking the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, the country's president who belongs to the minority Alawite community.

      'Scores wounded'

      The Reuters news agency reported, quoting a prominent human-rights campaigner, that security forces killed at least 11 civilians and wounded scores on Sunday.

      Razan Zaitouna, who is a rights lawyer, said by phone from Damascus, the largely peaceful capital, that the killings occurred in and around Talbiseh and Rastan.

      The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, said earlier on Sunday that it had the names of eight civilians killed.

      "Soldiers are now all over Talbiseh. They are breaking into houses and arresting people," one resident in the town of 60,000 said in a telephone interview.

      The sound of bullets echoed in the background.

      The official state news agency said four members of the security forces were killed in Talbiseh "while chasing armed terrorist groups ... to detain them and present them to justice".

      The activists said Sunday's attack on Rastan, Talbiseh and Teir Maaleh, in Homs, occurred after authorities cut all telecommunications in the area.

      They said all roads leading to the two towns were closed off by security forces and soldiers.

      The details could not be independently verified, as Al Jazeera is banned from entering Syria.

      Students targeted

      Earlier on Sunday, a mortar shell hit a school bus carrying children in Talbiseh, residents told Al Jazeera.

      An ambulance trying to rescue them was also targeted, but the wounded students were eventually allowed to be transported to the nearest hospital in Deir Balba, they said.

      Ages of the passengers ranged from six to 24 years, they said.

      Separately, security forces fired on a bus carrying university students on their way from Hama to Homs, residents and opposition activists said.

      The driver's assistant was killed in fire, they said.

      Separately, Mustafa Osso, a human-rights activist, said security forces opened fire in the early hours of Sunday at about 8,000 protesters in the northeastern town of Deir el-Zour, wounding several people.

      He said there were protests overnight in different parts of the country, including the Damascus suburbs of Zabadani and Douma.

      Journalists banned

      More than 1,000 people have been killed and 10,000 others arrested since the anti-government uprising began in Syria, according to rights groups.

      Syrian authorities say 143 soldiers, security personnel and police have been killed.

      Foreign journalists are barred from travelling inside Syria, making it difficult to report on the unrest and verify witness accounts.

      The Assad government insists the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.

      It initially responded to the revolt by offering some concessions, including lifting the state of emergency in place for nearly five decades, but coupled this with a fierce crackdown.

      Syria's crackdown: Why did Fawaz die?
      Secret police are raiding hospitals to round up people who were injured during anti-government protests.
      Hugh Macleod and a special correspondent Last Modified: 24 May 2011 19:39


      Syria opposition battles rising frustration and internal divisions
      Disorganisation and splits within activists' ranks said to deter others from joining movement


      Protester who exposed lies at the heart of Syria's regime
      Ahmad Biasi risked his life to reveal state violence. Now he is a hero of the uprising
      By Alastair Beach
      Monday, 23 May 2011


      In most countries it would have been inconsequential. But for Ahmad Biasi, a young man from a small town in north-west Syria, the simple act of filming himself in his home town captivated the Syrian protest movement, made him a symbol of the nationwide insurrection – and may have put his life in danger.

      It began when he was filmed in a video uploaded onto YouTube last month. Just days before, another film had been broadcast on news networks around the world, purportedly showing Kalashnikov-waving security forces beating and stamping on prisoners who had been captured in the town of Al-Bayda, close to Banias in north-western Syria. Ahmad Biasi had been among those being beaten and kicked by gun-toting security men in the original video.

      The government responded by saying the video had been faked, that the uniforms of the security men were not right, and that the film had probably been shot in Iraqi Kurdistan.

      Presumably incensed by the lie, Ahmad Biasi set out to prove that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had been as brutal as the video seemed to show. Using a mobile phone, he and his friends shot a long sequence of film which started by driving past the entry sign to Al-Bayda and continued with footage from the clearly recognisable town square where all the prisoners were held and beaten.

      In an amazing act of bravery – an act which has amassed him a devoted Facebook following – he finished the video by standing in front of the camera and holding up his national ID card, thus proving to the world that he was the Syrian national in the original video.

      But his bravery came at a terrible cost. Earlier this month, Ahmad was arrested by one of Syria's most feared intelligence units. Human-rights activists – who received reports last week that he had died under torture – told The Independent that had been held in a secret-service headquarters in Damascus.

      Before the weekend started, many people in Syria thought that Ahmad Biasi was dead. Human-rights organisations were receiving reports that he had suffered a terrifying final few hours at the hands of Syria's secret police.

      By Saturday night, it transpired he was very much alive and had given an interview to state television offering proof to that effect. "We know he was detained and taken by security," said Wissam Tarif, executive director of the Syrian human-rights organisation Insan. "He was humiliated in front of other prisoners. They urinated on him and he lost consciousness after being electrocuted. He was very badly tortured. They made him an example to the others and made other prisoners watch as he was being tortured."

      According to Mr Tarif, the types of abuse used by the Air Force Intelligence Directorate – the notorious branch of the secret police believed to have taken Ahmad – include electrocution, nail extraction and genital mutilation. "The level of brutality they are using is just absurd," Mr Tarif added. "It is so inhuman."

      Other human-rights organisations also received reports of Ahmad's death. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, residents in Al-Bayda had feared that "Ahmad may have died after being subjected to severe torture".

      Then on Saturday night, possibly under pressure from the growing publicity surrounding his case, Syrian state television dropped a happy bombshell. It ran an interview showing Ahmad Biasi sitting on a leather chair in a blank room expressing his "surprise" at hearing about his own death.

      Looking gaunt but otherwise healthy, he said: "I was home when I heard that I had died under torture in a prison. I was very surprised and I felt strange when I saw it on the news. I wondered how they broadcast such fake news. It is humiliating."

      Yet in spite of the dramatic turn of events, news of Ahmad's fate may turn out to harm the Syrian regime more than it had anticipated when it released the footage. Activists have already accused the secret police of extracting a forced confession, while others are saying that the interview has inadvertently done what Ahmad intended to do in the first place: prove that he was Syrian and that the original video of government abuse did not take place in Iraq.

      "He is now a hero of truth for protesters," said a Syrian journalist from a small town outside Damascus. "The thing is that national television has proved that this video took a place in Syria. They proved how stupid they are."

      His plight is also gaining online attention from growing numbers of people inside and outside Syria who view the activist's case as something of a cause célèbre – a rallying point for a nation in tumult.

      Thousands of people have joined Facebook pages which have been set up in solidarity with Ahmad, while his case has attracted a small but growing following on Twitter.

      Despite saying earlier in the year that he thought his country was impervious to the revolts shaking the Arab world, President Bashar al-Assad is now battling to contain a nationwide insurrection which began in the southern city of Deraa and has since spread to other major cities.

      On Saturday, at least 11 people were killed in Homs when security forces opened fire on a funeral. The violence came a day after 44 people were killed in demonstrations around the country, according to the Syrian National Organisation for Human Rights. Rights groups say 850 activists have died and many thousands have been arrested and tortured since the uprising began.

      How Ahmad Biasi showed Assad's brutality to the world

      After the Syrian authorities dismissed video footage of security forces beating protesters they were holding captive (pictures 1 and 2) as fake, one of the men attacked, Ahmad Biasi (sitting on a step in picture 3), decided to prove them wrong.

      He appeared on camera (picture 4) in another video, brandishing his ID card to prove he was Syrian (picture 5), and that the film had not been recorded in Iraqi Kurdistan, as the authorities had claimed. He began the footage by filming a sign (picture 6) bearing the town's name, al-Bayda, and then headed to the same spot featured in the original film (picture 7), recording his journey continuously.

      EU slaps sanctions on Syrian president
      European bloc imposes sanctions on Bashar al-Assad in attempt to pressure government to end violence against protesters.
      Last Modified: 23 May 2011 18:45



      Deaths as blasts rock central Iraq city
      A bomb kills 17 people and injures at least 50 at a mosque in Tikrit, Iraq.
      Last Modified: 03 Jun 2011 19:58


      Two apparently coordinated bomb attacks have killed at least 21 people and injured more than 60 others in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, local officials say.

      Victims of the first bomb were leaving Friday prayers when the blast went off, while the second, a suicide explosion, targeted the hospital where the wounded were taken.

      The bomb at the mosque was hidden in a barrel at the entrance of the house of worship, where provincial officials often attend Friday prayers, according to a security official.

      "The bomb went off when people were leaving the mosque after Friday prayers, and two of the wounded were members of the provincial council," an interior ministry official told the AFP news agency.

      A doctor at the city's hospital confirmed the casualty toll from the first blast as being 16 dead and 50 wounded.

      The subsequent suicide attack killed at least five people, leaving 10 others wounded, an interior ministry official said.

      Thursday attacks

      These attacks come a day after Thursday's multiple blasts which killed at least nine people and injured more than a dozen in the city of Ramadi in western Iraq's Anbar province, according to military and interior ministry sources.

      Police said on Thursday that two improvised explosive devices [IED] exploded near the eastern gate of a local government building compound, one after the other.

      Al Jazeera's Omar al-Saleh, reporting from Baghdad, quoting government sources, said: "Significantly, the compound houses the governor, police command and several other security directorates."

      Shortly afterwards, a car bomb was detonated by the vehicle's driver.

      A fourth bomb, also a suicide car bomb, went off near the Ramadi hospital where military and civilian rescuers were rushing to bring the victims for treatment, Hikmet Khalaf, Anbar province deputy governor told Reuters news agency.

      "Al-Qaeda is behind these attacks. They always carry out multiple explosions to inflict as heavy casualties as possible on the security forces and civilians," Khalaf added.

      "The four explosions took place between eight and 8:30pm local time, and most of the people at this time were at home and the casualties might have been higher if the explosions took place earlier,'' Jasim al-Halbusi, head of the Anbar Provincial Council, said.

      While overall violence in Iraq has dropped from the height of sectarian warfare in 2006-7, bombings still occur daily and insurgents are still capable of carrying out lethal attacks almost eight years after the US-led invasion.

      In February, a suicide bomber blew himself up during a ceremony in a cultural centre in Ramadi, killing 15 people and wounding 21.

      Iraqi refugees leave Syria for home
      As unrest grips Syria, many Iraqis who fled from violence in Iraq are heading home.
      Last Modified: 29 May 2011 11:33


      For more than a million Iraqis who escaped the violence in their country after the 2003 US invasion, Syria was a safe destination.

      But now, as the security situation in that country worsens, many are going back to Iraq to face an uncertain future.

      Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh has the story of one such family.

      see Video

      Iraq's sectarian walls come down
      Concrete walls, erected by US military to separate Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods, will be taken down.
      Last Modified: 23 May 2011 04:47


      Sectarian violence may still be a grim reality in today's Iraq, but there are some signs of the progress that has been made.

      At its height in the wake of the American invasion, Iraqis were forced to put up walls and barriers across Baghdad and other cities to protect people and buildings from car bombs.

      Now, however, they are coming down, and many hope that this time it is for good.

      Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf reports from Baghdad.



      Sudan's north and south agree to demilitarised border zone
      Deal would create 1,300-mile border patrolled by both armies to prevent further skirmishes such as invasion of Abyei
      Associated Press in Juba
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 31 May 2011 11.32 BST


      North and south Sudan have agreed to establish a jointly patrolled demilitarised border zone between the two as the south prepares to declare independence in July, the African Union confirmed.

      AU adviser Alex de Waal, who has facilitated negotiations on security issues between north and south, said the parties agreed on Monday during talks in Addis Ababa to form a common zone, stretching across a 1,300-mile (2,100-km) north-south border. It is not yet known when the zone will go into effect.

      The 6-miles deep, the zone will follow the 1956 border, the tentative line drawn when Sudan became independent from Britain.

      De Waal told the Associated Press by phone from Addis Ababa that discussions over a third-party military monitoring body – a United Nations peacekeeping force, for instance – were still to come.

      North and south Sudan fought two civil wars off and on over more than four decades before signing a 2005 peace deal. But the sides' relations took a nosedive earlier this month when the northern Sudanese army invaded the disputed border town of Abyei.

      The military action came after months of building tensions between the two armies in Abyei, a fertile, oil-producing border area claimed by both sides claim. An estimated 80,000 residents of the area have fled, many towards the southern state of Warrap, which is now experiencing food, fuel and shelter shortages.

      De Waal said the agreement to establish a demilitarised zone provides a model for solving the Abyei crisis. He called the deal a necessary step between the two parties that will allow the Sudanese government to take the necessary action to demilitarise Abyei.

      Since the Sudanese armed forces invaded Abyei on 21 May with tanks, heavy artillery and air cover, the UN security council and a host of western states have repeatedly condemned the act.

      Barack Obama's special envoy to Sudan called it a disproportionate response to an attack by the southern army on a UN-escorted northern military convoy in the area on 19 May.

      The security council has called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the northern army from Abyei, but the Khartoum government of President Omar al-Bashir has not made any concessions.

      On Thursday evening, the north bombed and destroyed the strategic bridge across the Bahr el Arab, called the river Kiir by southerners, which forms the 1956 border in the area.

      De Waal expressed optimism that the agreement will provide a basis for re-establishing co-operative relations between north and south at a time when a number of key issues related to the future of the two regions, including the sharing of oil wealth, remain unresolved.

      US group says Sudan army committed war crimes
      New satellite images cited as proof that one-third of all civilian buildings in Abyei were burned out during takeover.
      Last Modified: 30 May 2011 02:27


      New satellite images provide evidence that northern Sudanese troops have committed war crimes, including ethnic cleansing, in the contested border town of Abyei where the forces took over more than a week ago, according to an advocacy group.

      The Satellite Sentinel Project said in a statement on Sunday that satellite images by DigitalGlobe show that the Sudanese army burned about one-third of all civilian buildings in the north-south border town, used disproportionate force and indiscriminately targeted civilians.

      "The totality of evidence from satellites and ground sources points to state-sponsored ethnic cleansing of much of the contested Abyei region,'' the group said.

      The Satellite Sentinel Project said the evidence is being sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN Security Council for assessment.

      Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's president, is already wanted by the ICC for war crimes in the Darfur region.

      Northern Sudanese tanks rolled into the town of Abyei on May 21, scattering southern troops that were there as part of a joint security unit.

      Thousands displaced

      The seizure of Abyei followed an attack on a convoy of northern soldiers by southern forces on May 19 and two days of aerial bombardment of the area by the north.

      The northern takeover has displaced tens of thousands of civilians who now live in squalid conditions in southern villages.

      On Sunday, Save The Children's UK office warned that a new wave of violent conflict has displaced up to 35,000 children.

      The group said in a statement on Sunday that children who have been separated from their families since fighting broke out are at "grave risk'' of being targeted for sexual and physical abuse or recruited into the armed conflict.

      Save the Children said it is "desperately worried about those children currently beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance".

      George Clooney, the Hollywood actor, urged the UN to protect civilians in Abyei, saying the north's takeover was meant to disrupt the south's upcoming independence in July.

      "We now have undeniable proof of the Khartoum regime's war crimes in Abyei. We've captured visual evidence of the Sudan Armed Forces ransacking and razing Abyei town," Clooney said.

      Clooney initiated the Satellite Sentinel Project along with John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, after they travelled to Southern Sudan in October 2010.

      Visual evidence

      The Satellite Sentinel Project was established to use satellite images and on-the-ground reports to help deter the resumption of full-scale civil war between Sudan's north and south.

      In its statement, the group said the new visual evidence shows that the government of Sudan has committed grave violations of the Geneva Conventions and other war crimes, some of which may also constitute crimes against humanity.

      North and south Sudan ended more than two decades of civil war in 2005 with a peace deal that promised both Abyei and the south a self-determination vote.

      The south voted overwhelmingly in January to secede and will become an independent nation July 9. Abyei's vote never happened, so its future is being negotiated by the north and south.

      Prendergast on Sunday urged Obama administration to punish Sudan by isolating it diplomatically and denying it debt relief. He also asked the Abyei matter to be referred to the ICC.

      "What is happening in Abyei is what the international community feared would happen in Benghazi, Libya," he said.

      "We're not advocating military intervention, but we do think the Responsibility to Protect doctrine requires more assertive action in support of ongoing emergency diplomacy."

      UN warns Khartoum over Abyei assault
      Tens of thousands flee their homes following north's takeover of disputed region.
      Last Modified: 25 May 2011 20:20


      UN officials visiting South Sudan have condemned the north's violent takeover of the town of Abyei, which has prompted tens of thousands of people to flee the disputed region.

      South Sudan voted for independence from the north in a referendum in January this year.

      Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports on the situation from the capital, Khartoum.


      Thousands displaced by Abyei clashes
      At least 15,000 flee to South Sudan amid burning and looting as troops sent by Khartoum seize disputed border area.
      Last Modified: 24 May 2011 20:42


      At least 15,000 people have fled the southern Sudanese town of Abyei after clashes in the disputed border area, the United Nations has said.

      "We have a rough estimate of 15,000 people displaced in and around Agok [in South Sudan]," Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Tuesday.

      Earlier gunmen were reportedly looting properties, days after troops from the government in Khartoum entered the area, while the town of Abyei was set ablaze.

      Peacekeepers belonging to UNMIS, the UN mission in Sudan, said on Monday that the burning and looting was perpetrated "by armed elements" but it was not clear whether they were from the north or the south.

      Omar-al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, said a "peaceful resolution" for Abyei would be found.

      "We are efforting to solve the remaining issues and remove tensions in Abyei," he said in a speech.

      Abyei, claimed by both north and south, was due to vote on its future alongside a referendum on independence for the south.

      However, it did not hold the poll due to disagreements over who was eligible to vote. On Sunday it was seized by northern troops.

      The US special envoy to the country has said Washington would not drop Sudan from a terrorism list if it continued occupying the oil-rich district.

      Princeton Lyman said the "occupation" of Abyei by northern troops was "an extremely disproportionate response by the government of Sudan" to an attack on a UN convoy escorting the troops last week.
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