Satellite Sentinel Project Confirms Deliberate Burning of Third Village in Abyei Region

WASHINGTON -- The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has released new satellite imagery confirming the intentional burning of a third village, Tajalei, in Sudan’s Abyei region, in addition to the deliberate destruction since March 2 of the villages of Maker Abior and Todach. 

At least 300 buildings at Tajalei were intentionally destroyed by fire, according to Satellite Sentinel Project analysis of the DigitalGlobe satellite image, taken March 6 and analyzed by UNITAR/UNOSAT and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, with additional analysis by DigitalGlobe. Roughly two-thirds of those buildings appear to be consistent with civilian residential structures, known as tukuls.

George Clooney, who conceived of the Satellite Sentinel Project during a trip to Southern Sudan with Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast, stated:
"The Satellite Sentinel Project is the first to confirm the widespread and systematic targeting of civilian infrastructure across the Abyei region. This is the kind of undeniable evidence we feared we'd see if we put a camera where we weren't welcome. Village burning has caused tens of thousands to be displaced, unknown numbers of civilian casualties, and the deliberate destruction of at least three communities. If this violence is left unchecked, it could put the entire North-South peace process at risk.”

Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast stated:
“Satellite imagery combined with on-the-ground analysis is pointing to a deliberate attempt to subvert peace efforts by elements associated with the Khartoum government. By trying to displace Dinka residents from parts of Abyei, the case is strengthened to further divide the Abyei region between North and South. If mediators and concerned governments acquiesce to this strategy, it would legitimize local population clearing efforts and would be a recipe for a wider war.”

On Friday, SSP released a report, “Flashpoint: Abyei,” documenting a significant increase in military activity by apparent Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in South Kordofan state, as well as apparent Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) buildup south of Abyei. The continuing militarization of this tense region, including evidence of battle tanks and other heavy equipment, has contributed to an already volatile situation.

The SSP images, taken by DigitalGlobe, confirm widely reported attacks on multiple villages in the Abyei region since Sunday, February 27. Sources on the ground report the fighting may have begun between armed Misseriya and southern police, but that elements of the Popular Defense Force militias, historically supported by the Sudanese Armed Forces, participated in the attacks. Maker Abior was previously the scene of fighting just prior to the South Sudan referendum in early January. The fighting, as well as rumors of movement toward Abyei Town, has reportedly triggered the flight of tens of thousands of civilians southward toward Agok.

SSP has also documented clear increases in military capacity by SAF and SPLA in areas around Abyei, including heavy equipment transport and tanks at a known SAF outpost in Kharassana, a new suspected SAF position near Heglig, and a rapid build-out of suspected SPLA encampment in Unity State during the past month.

"The pattern in which these buildings were apparently burned is consistent with the intentional targeting of civilian infrastructure,” said Charlie Clements, MD, Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School and Director of Human Rights Documentation for SSP. "The systematic destruction of villages, primarily through the burning of civilian infrastructure, including residences, is a violation of the laws of war and represents a gross violation of human rights."

View the latest DigitalGlobe satellite images from Satellite Sentinel Project.

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About the Satellite Sentinel Project
The Satellite Sentinel Project combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google’s Map Maker to deter the resumption of full-scale war between North and South Sudan. Not On Our Watch provided seed money to launch the Satellite Sentinel Project. The Enough Project contributes field reports and policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch and our Sudan Now partners, pressures policymakers by urging the public to act. UNOSAT analyzes satellite images and collaborates with Google and Trellon to design the web platform. Harvard Humanitarian Initiative provides research and leads the collection, human rights analysis, and corroboration of on-the-ground reports that contextualizes the imagery. DigitalGlobe provides satellite imagery and additional analysis.