The northern Sudanese army has seized a strategic town [called Abyei] along Sudan’s contested north-south border in a serious military escalation that has the potential of igniting an all-out civil war, Western officials said on Sunday. ...A column of tanks from the north have seized the town. The southern forces have not said how they will respond, but they have tens of thousands of heavily-armed troops.
The southern part of Sudan is gearing up to declare independence in July and both northern and southern Sudan claim Abyei, making it one of the most combustible issues between the two sides. The Abyei area produces a small amount of oil but more than that, it has become a potent, emotional symbol for both northern and southern Sudanese. It has been called Sudan’s Jerusalem because of the difficulties of resolving its status.
The clash follows weeks of attacks by both sides in areas around the town, which has a mixed history: Culturally and ethnically southern, it has been administratively northern for decades and lies on a route that northern nomads use to bring their herds to watering holes.
After a bloody 20-year civil war that saw two million dead and four million refugeed, a peace agreement was reached in 2005 which involved a six-year period of autonomy for the south followed by a plebiscite on independence there. When the vote took place in January, over 95% voted for independence.
Now this. The thought that a peace, an agreement, that what has been so painfully established could all fall apart this close to some kind of closure is almost too much to think about.
Still, there have been stumbles and clashes on this path before. And at one time, simply making that 2005 agreement looked like a miracle. I can only hope that the Sudanese, both of the Muslim north and the Christian-animist south, have one more miracle in them.