September 29, 2010 (KHARTOUM) – Members of the Arab Misseriya tribe today marched to the local United Nations offices and handed over a letter in which they decried suggestions that they could be excluded from the vote on the region’s future.
A referendum is supposed to be held in Abyei next year on whether it should join the north or south. However, a deadlock over the composition of that referendum’s electoral commission means it is unlikely to happen on time, if at all.
Last year the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) redrew the boundaries of Abyei, ceding key oilfields to north Sudan but gave the South most of the land including Abyei town which has huge areas of fertile land and one significant oilfield. The borders have yet to be demarcated to comply with the court’s verdict because of threats leveled by the Misseriya.
The Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) in control of the South has interpreted the ruling as meaning that the cattle-herding Misseriya tribe have no right to vote in areas assigned by the PCA to the Dinka Ngok.
Mukhtar Babo Nimr, the chief of the Misseriya’s told the government run Sudanese Media Centre (SMC) website that today’s demonstrations were meant to protest proposals made by the U.S. and also remarks by the SPLM chairman Salva Kiir on their exclusion from voting.
Nimr stressed that the tribe rejects the PCA ruling and leaving out the Misseriya from the referendum process.
"After today we will not recognize what came out of the Hague because in our view it is an agreement of [two] parties and not a ruling of a court," he told SMC.
In a separate interview with Reuters, Nimr threatened further measures should their demands not be met.
"If they don’t accept our votes in the referendum there will be no voting," Nimr said.
"We will use force to achieve our rights and we will use weapons against anyone who tries to stop us from voting in the referendum....If they don’t meet our demands then we will set everything alight. If that leads to war then so be it." he warned.
The Misseriya fear if the south secedes and the north-south border becomes an international boundary, they will lose grazing rights to the land and their livelihoods.
South Sudan president has pledged in the past that the Misseriya will continue to enjoy grazing rights.
The tribe is heavily armed and some tribesmen were recruited by the northern government to fight the south as a proxy militia during the two decades north-south conflict.
Analysts believe unresolved disputes between local communities such as the Misseriya could flare up and drag the north and south back into war.
On Tuesday, the U.S. said that the SPLM and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) met last weekend on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to discuss the Abyei issue.
"We thought that they were useful meetings. They established a foundation for resolving the Abyei challenge," U.S. State Department spokesperson Phillip J. Crowley told reporters.
The meeting included U.S. special envoy Scott Gration and U.S. Assistant Secretary of state for African affairs Johnnie Carson.
Crowley said the two sides were due to meet again next month in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa "and we would expect that the parties should come to the meeting prepared to reach an agreement on Abyei."
John Prendergast, head of advocacy group Enough welcomed the U.S. new push on Abyei.
“Direct and deepening diplomatic engagement by the U.S. in attempting to break the Abyei deadlock significantly enhances the chances of peace in Sudan,” Prendergast said. “Maintaining this level of involvement in support of the African Union-led process is key to preventing the resumption of war between the North and South.”