May 26, 2011 (JUBA) - As tensions continue within Sudan’s disputed Abyei, the South Sudan leader, Salva Kiir completely ruled out a return to war, instead urging the north the withdraw its forces from the oil-producing region.
- Salva Kiir speaks during a press conference held in Juba on Thursday 26 May 2011 (photo Paul Banks/UNMIS )
Speaking at his first press conference in the capital Juba, since northern forces seized the region, displacing thousands of the population, Kiir said the south, under his leadership will remain committed to the full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
"South Sudan will not go back to war. It will never happen under my leadership and I have said this before," president Kiir told journalists at a well-attended press conference on Thursday.
South Sudan voted almost unanimously for secession in the referendum stipulated by the CPA. A simultaneous exercise was supposed to be conducted in Abyei by its residents who were to decide whether they want to be part of the North or South in January 2011.
However, the ex-foes were unable to reach an agreement on who is eligible to vote between the Dinka Ngok, who are permanent residents of the region, and the Arab Misseriya who spend part of every year in Abyei as they seek pastures for their cattle.
On 22 May, north Sudan forces made a quick and successful takeover of the contested region forcing troops from their northern counterparts-Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to withdraw south of the country.
Clad in his usual trademark hat, Kiir, who appeared composed also accused the Khartoum regime for its continuous provocation of the south, saying the quest for peace as stipulated in the 2005 peace agreement remains his ultimate goal in the run-up to the long-awaited independence scheduled for 9 July.
“The Government of South Sudan remains committed to peace. But let some people not interpret this as acts of cowardice”, warned Kiir, who also doubles as Sudan’s first vice president.
The ongoing incident in Abyei, he said, was a wider plot by the Khartoum regime to derail South Sudan’s preparations for its independence, which had hitherto been heading towards success.
“We are not new to this kind of provocation from the NCP [National Congress Party]. Their invasion of Abyei should not be viewed as an isolated incident, but part of their plan to cause havoc in the region ahead of independence,” he said.
According to Kiir, the pending issues in Abyei can only be amicably resolved if both parties, which were signatory to the CPA strictly adhere to the recommendations made by the Abyei border committee, as provided for within the Abyei protocol.
While he described the southern army – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army as a “disciplined” force, Kiir castigated their northern counterparts for killing its people, in addition to looting and burning houses of innocent civilians.
“How can a national army descend on its own people with such brutality to the extent of burning houses, killing civilians and committing crimes of such nature? Sudan Armed Forces have to withdraw from Abyei and their acts of criminality have to be properly investigated,” said Kiir.
The disputed Abyei area, the president reiterated, belongs to the Dinka Ngok dating back to 1905, and that the “illegal” occupants - the Messeriya, are simply “guests” who have no right to claim ownership of the land.
The international community, he urged, should intervene into the ongoing conflict in the oil-producing region. Only the Joint Integrated Units (JIUs), the president leader added, should be permitted to man the region.
Kiir also appealed to the southern population to remain calm and ensure that the events in Abyei do not scupper the smooth preparation for the long-awaited independence.
On 23 May members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) delegation, who were on a visit to Sudan condemned the incident in Abyei and said the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) will probe the incident and come up with a detail assessment report. It however remained unclear when this report is likely to be released.
Western countries, namely the US, France and United Kingdom have also criticised Khartoum’s military takeover of Abyei and called for immediate withdrawal. The same message was reiterated by the European Union (EU).