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Abyei Violence Could Cause Humanitarian Crisis

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ABYEI SUDAN
AP

TURALEI, Sudan — Ayak Adiang and her children will soon run out of food – but only because Adiang opened her home to villagers running from violence.

Tens of thousands of Sudanese are fleeing from the contested north-south border region of Abyei, and the top U.S. official in the region warned Friday of a humanitarian crisis over the north's invasion.

Food and fuel are running short. There is not nearly enough shelter.

Adiang's single-room house is now bursting with people. Martha Abiem Deng arrived empty-handed with two relatives and a dozen children between them after fleeing fighting in Abyei. Adiang took them in.

"They will consume the little we have," said Adiang as she sat near the dark, pungent hut that serves as her kitchen.

All Adiang has left is a pot of meat and three bowls of pounded porridge. Turalei's market is empty after an influx frightened families arrived over the past few days, almost doubling the town's population. The only things still for sale are cigarettes and telephone chargers.

County Commissioner Dominic Deng said Friday that up to 40,000 people have arrived in Turalei, a town just south of Abyei. He said at least 80,000 people have fled Abyei, a zone about the size of Connecticut which northern Sudan invaded last weekend.

On a visit to Turalei on Friday, the top U.S. official in Southern Sudan, Barrie Walkley, said "we have a perfect storm" creating a humanitarian crisis. Sudan's north is blockading border crossing points, preventing food and fuel from getting to the south. Militias are attacking southern forces, and the northern army displaced tens of thousands of people by invading Abyei, he said.

Lise Grande, the U.N.'s top humanitarian official in Southern Sudan, said there are not enough stocks in the area to supply all the fleeing families with food and shelter. The fuel shortage is greatly hampering relief efforts, she said.

"It's double the number of people we were planning for," she said. "We have to face the fact that if they are here for a while then what we have is not enough."

Outside Adiang's hut, Deng sat under a tree and gestured to one small jerry can. Her whole family must share the water within it.

"We don't have any money and there is no food in the market anyway," the 49-year-old said.

Both northern and Southern Sudan stake a claim to Abyei, a fertile grassland near several oil fields. Fighting between north and south broke out last week, and northern troops moved in with force.

Southern Sudan's president says the south will not respond militarily and risk a resumption of the country's civil war. More than 2 million people were killed during war, which ended with a peace deal in 2005.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said Thursday that the north's movement into Abyei appears to have been premeditated.

Rice said government forces seem to have used an attack by southern forces on a convoy of government soldiers from the north last week as a "pretext" to move into Abyei, the border town between Sudan's Arab-dominated north and mainly ethnic African south.

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 becomes an independent nation July 9. Abyei's vote never happened, so its future was being negotiated by the north and south.

But since fighting broke out last week, families have been pouring into Turalei, hoping for refuge. Many walk for days barefoot through the thorny jungle, carrying screaming children in their arms. Some end up sleeping under trees. The lucky ones are taken in by families, where they face the agonizing realization that every morsel that feeds their own children is taking away from the children of their hosts.

"The food will soon finish," said Adiang quietly, watching her toddler play in the dirt with the children of her guests. "Maybe the humanitarians will help."

But despite the shortages, she is glad to be helping her kinsmen.

"If I had fled to their place they would have taken me in," said Adiang. "It is our culture."

(This version CORRECTS Corrects Abiang to Adiang throughout.)