Abyei tension still driving civilians into South Sudan

Briefing Notes, 7 June 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 June 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is noting a rise in the number of civilians displaced in the area around Sudan's Abyei. Our current estimate is that close to 100,000 people are displaced, of whom 67,000 have so far been registered.

Of the registered IDPs, 68 percent are in the Turalei and Mayan Abun areas of Warrap State. Most of the rest are in Agok close to Abyei, which despite the presence of armed civilians and military is attracting IDPs from surrounding areas and returning residents who had earlier fled the town.

UNHCR staff monitoring the situation say that many people are still on the move or hiding in the bush amid heavy military activity in the region. Gunfire could still be heard in Abyei late last Thursday, and Antonov's have been seen flying above Bantan Bridge, creating panic among IDPs who fear being bombed. Bantan Bridge over the Kiir River is one of the main routes linking Abyei to South Sudan.

From accounts of people in the area immediately south of the bridge UNHCR has heard of night time looting, shooting, and other harassment by armed men coming from Abyei. Two elderly women reported being beaten by soldiers in Abyei itself.

UNHCR is concerned by the continued heavy presence of soldiers in areas where humanitarian operations are taking place. We are calling on both sides to refrain from acts of violence against civilians, or violence that would prompt more displacement.

Displacement from Abyei started on 21 May when the town was attacked and taken over by Sudan Armed Forces. This is the latest crisis affecting South Sudan where over 120,000 people have already been uprooted this year as a result of communal violence.

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