November 16, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has urged youth from the contested border region of Abyei, to refrain from violence and revenge following a protest in which one local civilian working for United Nations in the area was killed on Tuesday. Two other civilians are reported to have sustained serious injuries.
Kiir called on the youth groups in the key oil-producing area to control their emotions, in a meeting with Abyei community leaders in Abyei on Wednesday, adding that dialogue was the only available option to deal with the situation to find a lasting settlement to the conflict over the area.
Tensions in Abyei have been rising following the 24 October endorsement of a proposal by the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) calling for a referendum - delayed since January 2011 - to be held by October 2013 should Sudan and South Sudan fail to reach an agreement on the basis of the AU’s proposal.
The scheduled plebiscite, agreed as part of the 2005 deal that ended decades of civil and resulted in South Sudan’s independence over 16 months ago, was initially shelved over the issue of the participation of the Misseriya, who traditionally enter the area with their cattle for some parts of the year.
The latest AU proposal excludes the Misseriya nomads and has been rejected by Sudan’s President Omer Al-Bashir. Should the vote only include the few Misseriya residing Abyei and the Dinka Ngok, the sole residents of the area according to Juba, it would be expected that the fertile oil-producing region would transferred from South Kordofan into South Sudan’s Warrap State.
The events leading to the death of the Dinka Ngok UN employee was triggered by the arrival in Abyei of a bus of over 20 Misseriya community leaders on Monday 12 November evening.
The group said they had travelled from Muglad to Abyei town after an invitation from the UN peacekeeping mission in the area (UNISFA) to discuss the annual southern migration of the Misseriya and their cattle. However, South Sudan’s ruling party - the SPLM - say that they were not informed of the meeting and claim their arrival was aimed to "destabilize the area".
The Misseriya in a meeting held in Al-Muglad on Wednesday termed the incident as "provocative and dangerous" and decided to organise a rally in Guli village at 12 kilometres north-east of Abyei to protest against the attack on their elders.
Khartoum and Juba withdrew their armed forces from the area earlier this year, under pressure from the UN Security Council, allowing some of the Dinka Ngok to return to the area. The latter left the area after the seizure of Abyei by the Sudan Armed Forces in May 2011.
In a statement on Wednesday, South Sudan’s Chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), Luka Biong, said that the arrival bus of Misseriya was with "the aim of provoking Dinka Ngok returnees".
Biong, and SPLM officials in Abyei, say the bus headed to the town’s Mosque, where the group intended to stay the night but on the way there "started chanting "Allah Akber (god is Great).. We have returned to our land". However, a source in area has told Sudan Tribune that reports of such chants were "rubbish".
The arrival of the Misseriya bus at Abyei mosque quickly drew an angry crowd and UNISFA were forced to protect the Misseriya leaders and escorted them to the UN compound. The Misseriya say they called the peacekeepers to rescue them after the Ngok youth attacked them in the Mosque and broke the arm of the bus driver.
On Tuesday morning, Biong said, the call to prayer was heard to come from the Mosque and an agitated crowd gathered around the building, which was again surrounded by UN peacekeepers and staff.
The anonymous source in Abyei said that UNISFA peacekeepers fire warning shots in order to the protect the Mosque and it was possible that it was stray bullets fired by the UN peacekeepers that killed the Dinka Ngok UN worker and wounded two others.
In Khartoum Biong’s Sudanese counterpart on the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, Al-Khair Al-Fahim, said Wednesday that he blamed the Misseriya elders for the lack of coordination in organising their arrival to Abyei without informing them.
Deng Mading, an Abyei community leader, said at a press briefing shortly after meeting President Kiir on Wednesday that the "Misseriya came to Abyei without prior information to the United Nations and authorities in the area".
“They came to the town with intention to provoke the situation. Their coming was not known to anyone even the Co- Chair of the Abyei [Joint] Oversight Committee representing Sudan was not aware. Traditional leaders in the area were not aware. The United Nations Interim Force for Abyei was not aware. Nobody knows their visit."
In Juba, sources say the circumstances of the death are not clear but stressed that the UN soldiers were the only group with arms. However, Abyei community leader Mading contradicted this on Wednesday, claiming that the Misseriya group had been armed.
Consultations are taking place between, UN officials, Juba ,and Addis Ababa over how to investigate the incident, with fears of possible retaliation against UNISFA and a severe loss of trust from Dinka community in general.
However, despite the “regrettable incident”, Luka Biong said that the South Sudanese government is determined to fully implement the agreement on the temporary arrangements for administration and security of the Abyei Area based the 20 June 2011 deal.
South Sudan was "also willing to engage directly with the government of Sudan based on the African Union High Level Implementation Panel proposal on the final status of the Abyei, so as to reach consensus in accordance with the decision of the African Peace and Security Council communiqué of October 24th”, Biong said.
Arop Madut Arop, a member of parliament representing the area in Juba condemned the killing of the local employee and criticised the UN on how it handled the situation, arguing the international body has the mandate to provide security in the area.
"How did this group enter Abyei? Where were the forces of the United Nations Interim Force for Abyei? UNISFA has a mandate to provide protection to the civilians and their properties in the area identified by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). How will civilian trust UNISFA now that they are killed," asked Arop in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Wednesday