About a third of all civilian structures have been razed in the main town of Sudan’s disputed Abyei region after the northern army took control of the area, said a satellite monitoring project report.
Khartoum sent tanks into Abyei on May 21, sparking an international outcry less than two months before the south is expected to break off into a new country, and stoking fears the two sides could return to full-scale conflict.
The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) said recent images showed the northern army had positioned tanks, mobile artillery, heavy transports and other armour in and near Abyei town, Reuters reports.
“Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced. Approximately one-third of all civilian structures in Abyei town have been razed,” the report quoted Harvard Carr Center Executive Director Charlie Clements as saying.
A spokesman for the northern army was not immediately available to comment on the report. The army said on Saturday it had stopped military operations in Abyei after taking full control of the area, and called on residents to return home.
The SSP report said its images confirmed the destruction of a key bridge, known as the Banton bridge, south of Abyei town. Its demolition will make it harder for tens of thousands of displaced people to return home, it added.
The report said the project would send the information it had gathered to the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court.
The fertile Abyei region is used all year round by the Dinka Ngok people, who have ethnic ties to the south, and for part of the year by the northern Arab Misseriya nomads. It also produces some oil.
Abyei was a major battleground in Sudan’s last civil war and has a potent symbolic value for both north and south.
Tensions rose in the region after a May 20 attack on a convoy of northern troops and U.N. peacekeepers that was blamed on southern forces.
The north sent tanks in the following day, and tens of thousands of people fled after widespread looting and burning broke out.
Khartoum has since defied calls by the United Nations, the United States and south Sudan’s president to withdraw, saying Abyei belongs to the north.