Thursday, 26 May 2011

Sudan: Gunmen open fire on UN helicopters

A UN spokesperson, Hua Jiang, has said that gunmen from an Arab tribe fired at four UN helicopters taking off from the disputed town of Abyei. Jiang said the incident occurred late in the evening on Tuesday 24th May, she added that none of the helicopters were hit despite being targeted repeatedly.

Only days ago, the UN reported that Abyei had been set on fire, with looting and violence spreading throughout the area. News of the situation preceded UN's call on Sudan to immediately withdraw its armed forces from the region.

According to several sources, Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir gave northern troops the "green light" to attack southern forces if provoked.

Both North and South Sudan claim oil rich Abyei but the region's status is yet to be established, after a referendum on its future was shelved.

The seizure of Abyei by the North has confirmed concerns that violence may escalate between the two sides, which fought a twenty year civil war that ended with a peace treaty in 2005. The North said it acted after 22 of its men were killed in a southern ambush earlier this week.

South Sudan is set to become independent in July, after the majority of South Sudanese people voted in favour of secession in January. There are concerns, however, that the transition may be hindered by the on-going political turmoil.

According to the French ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, the North army's military operation “threatens to undermine the mutual commitment of the parties to avoid a return to war.”

Sources: AP, The Independent , AFP, Fox News

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

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