Africa

Sudan 'threatened to shoot UN helicopter' in Abyei

A UN patrol in Abyei
Image caption UN peacekeepers have been tasked with monitoring the withdrawal of northern and southern forces

Sudan threatened to shoot a helicopter trying to evacuate UN peacekeepers wounded by a landmine in the disputed Abyei region, a top UN official says.

Peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said the UN spent three hours trying to persuade the government to let the airlift take place.

Three wounded soldiers died while the negotiations were being held, he said.

The peacekeepers were sent earlier this month to Abyei, claimed by Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan.

Within days of their arrival from Ethiopia, their convoy hit a landmine in Mabok, south-east of Abyei town.

One peacekeeper died instantly while another three died later, said Mr Le Roy, the UN Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping.

"We didn't get the clearance for the Medivac helicopter to take off immediately," he said.

"They prevented us from taking off by threatening to shoot at the helicopter."

Mr Le Roy said "no-one can say" whether the delay in airlifting the peacekeepers had contributed to their deaths.

A board of inquiry was looking into the incident, he said.

'Preventing incursions'

Seven other peacekeepers were injured by the blast.

The village where the landmine exploded had been occupied by troops loyal to the government in Khartoum, which has signed the Ottawa Treaty banning the use of anti-personnel mines.

Northern forces had occupied Abyei in May, raising fears of a renewal of Sudan's 21-year north-south conflict.

After the offensive, more than 100,000 people fled the territory, mainly to South Sudan, which gained independence on 9 July.

But in June, both the north and south agreed to withdraw their troops from Abyei, leaving a 20km (12-mile) buffer zone along the border.

A week later, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to send a 4,200-strong Ethiopian peacekeeping force to Abyei to monitor the withdrawal, as well as the human rights situation.

The resolution established a new UN peacekeeping force, the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (Unisfa).

It also ordered Unisfa to protect civilians and to "protect the Abyei area from incursions by unauthorised elements".

Sudan's permanent representative to the UN, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, said northern forces would withdraw as soon as the Ethiopian troops had been deployed.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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