April 27, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir has reiterated claims that the contested oil-producing region of Abyei belongs to the north, and threatened to wage war in the border state of South Kordofan if the newly independent South Sudan opted for confrontation there.
- Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir (FILE)
Ownership of Abyei region is claimed by both north and south Sudan, which voted earlier this year to secede in a referendum promised under the 2005’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended nearly half a century of intermittent north-south civil wars.
Abyei’s status was supposed to be decided in a referendum vote in January, but north and south Sudan disagreed on whether members of the north-backed tribe of al-Messriya, whose nomads cross over to Abyei for a few months a year to graze their cattle, should be allowed to vote alongside the south-linked tribe of Dinka Ngok.
In an inflammatory speech he delivered on Tuesday, Al-Bashir laid stress on the north’s ownership of Abyei. "I say it and repeat it for the million times, Abyei is northern and will remain northern," he declared.
Meanwhile, a senior official from Al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has warned that the north would revoke its recognition of south Sudan’s independence if the latter claims ownership of Abyei in its constitution.
South Sudan lays claim to Abyei in its draft constitution, which is due to be adopted after the region officially gains independence in July.
Al-Dirdiri Ahmed, the NCP’s official in charge of Abyei dossier, told the pro-government website Sudan Media Center that his party rejects any mention of Abyei as located within the borders of South Sudan in the region’s draft constitution. He warned that his party would reconsider its recognition of South Sudan state if its new constitution states that Abyei is part of the south.
Al-Bashir, who was addressing a public rally in Al-Mujlad town in South Kordofan, where the NCP will vie in long-delayed gubernatorial and legislative elections due to be held on May 2, threatened that his party was ready to reignite war if the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which controls South Sudan, thinks of entering war in south Kordofan.
South Kordofan saw violent incidents ahead of the sensitive vote when the paramilitary Popular Defense Forces (PDF), allegedly backed by the NCP’s incumbent candidate in gubernatorial elections Ahmad Harun, attacked El-Feid earlier this month, killing 17 people and burning hundreds of houses.
Al-Bashir said that the SPLM would incur a great loss if it thinks of going back to the square of war in South Kordofan, warning that the movement must submit to the will of ballot boxes “or else boxes of bullets will decide the matter.”
President Al-Bashir and his candidate Ahmed Harun are both wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the background of atrocities committed during a government counterinsurgency campaign in the western region of Darfur, where an eight year conflict killed thousands of people and displaced millions.
Al-Bashir’s statements have sparked a response from the SPLM whose candidate in South Kordofan’s gubernatorial elections, Abdul Aziz Adam Al-Hilu, deplored Al-Bashir speech as a declaration of war.
“We condemn Al-Bashir’s Mujlad speech in which there was nothing but the language of war while we advocate peace,” Al-Hilu said in a press conference, adding that “the head of state who calls for, and preach, war should end Darfur war first.”
Al-Hilu said that his party had been warning the NCP against transforming South Kordofan State into a forefront of war against South Sudan and using the state’s people as fuel for this war.
The SPLM’s candidate went on to accuse the NCP of violating the elections law by engaging in fraudulent practices and using state-resources to support Harun’s electoral campaign, citing as an example the live-broadcasting of Harun’s speeches by the national T.V which is funded for by the Sudanese taxpayer.
South Kordofan’s election was postponed from April 2010 as the country held nationwide elections due to disagreements over the 2008 census and delimitation of geographic constituencies.
Under the CPA, the state is also due to hold popular consultations after the elections in order to decide whether the agreement has met the aspirations of its citizens and resolve any outstanding issues related to the agreement’s implementation.