JUBA, Sudan – An advocacy group on Sunday said new satellite images provide evidence that northern Sudanese troops have committed war crimes, including ethnic cleansing, in the contested border town of Abyei where the forces took over more than a week ago.
The Satellite Sentinel Project said in a statement that satellite images by DigitalGlobe show that the Sudanese army burned about one third of all civilian buildings in the north-south border town, used disproportionate force and indiscriminately targeted civilians.
"The totality of evidence from satellites and ground sources points to state-sponsored ethnic cleansing of much of the contested Abyei region," the group said.
The Satellite Sentinel Project said the evidence is being sent to the International Criminal Court and the U.N. Security Council for assessment. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir is already wanted by the ICC for war crimes in the Darfur region.
Northern Sudanese tanks rolled into the town of Abyei on May 21, scattering southern troops that were there as part of a joint security unit. The U.N. compound was also hit with mortar fire, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said two U.N. peacekeepers were wounded.
The seizure of Abyei followed an attack on a convoy of northern soldiers by southern forces on May 19 and two days of aerial bombardment of the area by the north.
The northern takeover has displaced tens of thousands of civilians who now live in squalid conditions in southern villages.
On Sunday, Save The Children's U.K. office warned that a new wave of violent conflict has displaced up to 35,000 children.
The group said in a statement Sunday that children who have been separated from their families since fighting broke out are at "grave risk" of being targeted for sexual and physical abuse or recruited into the armed conflict.
Save the Children said it is "desperately worried about those children currently beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance."
Actor George Clooney urged the U.N. to protect civilians in Abyei, saying the north's takeover was meant to disrupt the south's upcoming independence in July.
"We now have undeniable proof of the Khartoum regime's war crimes in Abyei. We've captured visual evidence of the Sudan Armed Forces ransacking and razing Abyei town," said Clooney, who initiated the Satellite Sentinel Project along with Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast after they traveled to Southern Sudan in October 2010.
The Satellite Sentinel Project was established last year to use satellite images and on-the-ground reports to help deter the resumption of full-scale civil war between Sudan's north and south.
In its statement, the group said the new visual evidence shows that the government of Sudan has committed grave violations of the Geneva Conventions and other war crimes, some of which may also constitute crimes against humanity.
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 will become an independent nation July 9. Abyei's vote never happened, so its future is being negotiated by the north and south.
Prendergast on Sunday urged Obama administration to punish Khartoum by isolating it diplomatically and denying it debt relief. He also asked the Abyei matter to be referred to the ICC.
"What is happening in Abyei is what the international community feared would happen in Benghazi, Libya. We're not advocating military intervention, but we do think the Responsibility to Protect doctrine requires more assertive action in support of ongoing emergency diplomacy," he said.
Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.