February 24, 2013 (JUBA) - The delay in the formation of a joint administration in the Abyei area remains a setback in efforts to achieve peace and stability in the disputed oil-producing region.
Majak D’ Agoot, South Sudan’s deputy defence minister, said he is optimistic the new nation will celebrate this year’s independence in July, with Abyei “under the administration of the government of the Republic of South Sudan”.
“We are not happy. We shall only be happy if we celebrate the next independence with Abyei being under [the] administration of the government of the Republic of South Sudan”, he said on Saturday.
Speaking at a gathering of the Ngok Lual Yak community in Juba, the minister also acknowledged the contributions made by various groups from the area during the protracted civil war between north and South.
However, he said the South-ruling party (SPLM) was determined to pursue legitimate means to ensure that Abyei becomes part of South Sudan, as it was before nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms were transferred to the north by the British in 1905.
The status of Abyei was scheduled to have been resolved in a referendum over two years ago, but differences between Juba and Khartoum over who was legible to vote caused its delay.
The situation was further complicated when the Sudanese army (SAF) forcibly took control of the area in May 2011 ahead of South Sudan’s independence, displacing over 100,000 people.
Since then, a 4,000-strong UN peacekeeping force has been deployed in the area, but establishing a civilian administration in the region has proved painfully slow.
The African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, has recommended that should the two sides fail to come to a political agreement over the status of Abyei, a referendum be held in October, with only those residents in the area involved.
Edward Lino Wuor, a native of Abyei, who is the SPLM chairperson for the area, told Sudan Tribune negotiations on the status of the disputed area have stopped because Sudan was “dragging” its feet on the AU-backed proposal.
“Nothing is moving. Everything has stopped. The government of Sudan has decided to employ political tactics to delay settling the final status of Abyei. It wants further discussions, but with who? We have been engaging [them] for the last seven years without success,” he said.
Wour called for immediate action from the international community, which he insists is capable of resolving the dispute in the contested region.
“The international community knows very well that [the] people of Abyei have suffered a great deal. It is time the international community should take a decision and act immediately”, he said.
Both Sudan and South Sudan struck a deal in September last year to demilitarise the border region in order to maintain a buffer zone, but neither side has implemented the agreement.