September 30, 2012 (JUBA) - Paul Malong Awan, Governor of South Sudan’s State Northern Bahr el Ghazal has expressed his disappointment with the Security Arrangements deal with Sudan that calls for withdrawal of the armed forces of the young nation from the disputed Mile 14 area, declaring that the exercise would only take place in his absence.
- General Paul Malong Awan, Governor of South Sudan’s State of Northern Bahr el Ghazal (photo - paulmalongforgovernor.org)
The Sudanese government delayed the talks over the outstanding issues and refused for several months to accept the buffer zone proposed by the African Union mediation because it includes Mile 14. Sudan says the area historically belongs to its western Darfur region.
Presidents Omer Al-Bashir and Salva Kiir however reached a deal providing that South Sudanese troops have to pull out of the disputed area south of the Kiir/Bahr el Arab River and to establish a tribal administration there. The two parties agree also that the lines of the buffer zone do not demarcate the borders and they have to continue talks over the contested areas.
Governor Awan made the remarks on Friday while briefing citizens of the state living in the country’s capital Juba two days after returning from Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where the deal was signed on Thursday.
"I want to assure you that we are in 14 Mile and we will be there to stay. This is our area and we know how to manage relations," Awan said in a statement broadcast by South Sudan Television on Saturday.
Governor Awan, who is under mounting pressure from citizens from the area, told the audience that Mile 14 had been part of South Sudan and that he does not think he will witness the area becoming part of Sudan in his presence.
The ownership of the fertile grazing area has been disputed between two pastoralist groups, the Malwal Dinka and Rizeigat since the 19th century. During Anglo-Egyptian rule, the British administration gave the Darfurian Rizeigat tribe a secondary right of to hunt in the area.
However the after annexing of Darfur to Sudan in 1916, the colonial administration decided to annex the disputed Mile 14 into Darfur, to recompense the Rizeigat for their efforts supporting in the annexation of Darfur to Sudan.
"We know the period they come. We are now left with two months. When they come, will ask them whether they need water or land, if they need land and not water and pastures, we will ask them to return," Awan told a visibly congested meeting hall by an audience wanting to hear his official position.
"When a dispute over grazing arose in 1918, the British governor of Darfur imposed a new boundary, declaring that ’Dar Rizeigat’ extended 65 km (40 miles) south of the Bahr al-Arab/Kiir River," wrote British historian Douglas Johnson in his 2010 book When boundaries become borders.
The Dinka Malwal contested the decision and in 1924 the British governors of Darfur and Bahr al-Ghazal provinces agreed a new boundary demarcating the Darfur border 23 km (14 miles) south of and parallel to the Bahr al-Arab/Kiir River.
Members of parliament and key prominent members of the community also expressed disappointment with deal and vowed support to the state administration, accusing the national government of deliberately excluding representatives from the area from the talks.
"This will not work. Grazing corridors are never boundaries. The area has never been part of Sudan," said Dhieu Mathok Diing Wol, a leading member of South Sudan’s governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) from the area.
Majang Ngor Kuany, a former speaker of the state Legislative Assembly and now a chair of parliamentary committee responsible for information and communication said he could not attend the brief because the hall was full but that he would not have accepted endorsing the deal which concedes the area.
"I left the briefing yesterday because it was full. I could not find a seat so I left but it is all the same. Whether I was at the briefing or not, I do not support giving out the area," Kuany said on Saturday.
Angelo Machar Akec, a native of the area and a senior civil servant who works with the national government in Juba also protested the exclusion of local representatives at the talks, arguing the decision was a deliberate plan.
"I think it was a deliberate plan because it has never happened anywhere that people from the area are left out from discussions about issues which affect them. The negotiators never consulted us. They do not know where these areas are. They have no knowledge about them at all. We will not accept. We will just fight. This is the only solution and which I think this is what they wanted," he said.
Akec dismissed claims that Mile 14 belongs to East Darfur state according to the 1924 agreement between Dinka Malual chiefs and Rizeigat chiefs. He also said he disagreed with the agreement at in principle reached at the talks which culminated into the deal to pull out its troops from the area.
"There has never been an agreement. What I know is that there was an arrangement that allows Riziggat to come with their cattle during dry season to access water and pasture and go back when it rains," he said.
"This was just [a] traditional arrangement. It was an agreement and pulling out our troops from that area means that we have no full right for that area, or we agreed that it’s a contested area which is wrong based on the evidence on the ground. 14 Mile has not been a disputed area, and it has been administrated by Northern Bahr el Ghazal state since independence of Sudan” in 1956, he stressed.
The deal places no ownership of the 14 mile border area to either Sudan or South Sudan but agreed that the area would be administered by a traditional authority including the Dinka Malual and the tribes who graze their cattle in area.
Under the deal in Addis Ababa the demilitarization of the area will observed by Ethiopian peacekeepers who are already deployed as part of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). Abyei is another disputed border area.
The UNISFA and local representatives will sit on a Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission (JBVMM).