7 June 2011 The number of people displaced as a result of conflict in the disputed Sudanese area of Abyei has risen to nearly 100,000, the United Nations refugee agency reported today, adding that many residents are still on the move or hiding in bushland amid heavy military activity.
“Our current estimate is that close to 100,000 people are displaced, of whom 67,000 have so far been registered,” Adrian Edwards, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.
Some 68 per cent of the registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) have sought safety in the Turalei and Mayan Abun areas of neighbouring Warrap state. The rest have gone to Agok, which – despite its closeness to Abyei and the presence of armed groups – is attracting IDPs from surrounding areas and returning residents who had fled earlier.
“Gunfire could still be heard in Abyei late last Thursday and Antonovs [military planes] have been seen flying above Bantan Bridge, creating panic among IDPs who fear being bombed,” said Mr. Edwards. The bridge over the River Kiir is one of the main routes linking Abyei to Southern Sudan.
People in the immediate south of the bridge have given accounts 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, according to Mr. Edwards.
“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,” he said.
Displacement from Abyei started on 21 May when the town was attacked and taken over by the Sudanese armed forces.
The violence is taking place just weeks before Southern Sudan formally separates from the rest of the country, following a referendum held in January.
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