March 2, 2013 (JUBA) - Community leaders from the oil-producing region of Abyei have asked South Sudan government to review of the current mandate of the United Nations Interim Security forces for Abyei (UNISFA).
- A photo of the disputed border town of Abyei (AP)
In a letter issued ahead of next week’s South Sudan ruling party (SPLA) political bureau meeting, members of the Abyei community expressed deep concerns over the manner in which UNISFA was handling security in the disputed region.
“We call on the leadership of SPLM and the government of the republic of South Sudan, especially President Salva Kiir Mayardit to review the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Abyei. This is very important because we believe it is time the government of South Sudan takes complete responsibility of the security of our people”, the letter, jointly authored by traditional leaders and youth group from the area reads in part.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in November last year, renewed the mandate of its peacekeeping force in Abyei for additional six months, until May 2013.
Composed mainly of Ethiopian troops, the 4,000 strong force was established following the seizure of Abyei by the Sudanese army in May 2011 after clashes with the southern army (SPLA) in the area. Its main mandate is to ensure the redeployment of troops out of the contested area and to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians.
The document, obtained by Sudan Tribune, also cited a recent event in which authorities claimed deployment of Sudan armed forces in the area and the raid of over 400 heads of cows by armed groups allegedly supported by the Sudanese government.
“The current security situation requires immediate intervention of the government of South Sudan. We are very concerned of the current security situation of our people. The government of Sudan has not only embarked on comprehensive and massive settlement of Misseriya in Abyei area, but also deployment of Sudan armed forces," the group noted in the letter.
They have currently moved their forces to Todach and have asked UNISFA forces not to move out of their camps. This means that they do not want their activities to be monitored and be reported, it added.
Phillip Aguer, the SPLA spokesperson confirmed receiving reports about the deployment of Sudan armed forces in the area and urged the UN peacekeeping forces to observe the mandate which forms the basis of their deployment there.
“The government of Sudan is using militia under Colonel Thomas Theil and Major William Deng who are officers in the Sudanese army. They are destabilising the area. The Sudan armed forces have also deployed forces in three places. They have now moved their forces to Lenger, Kej and Todac”, said Aguer, in a statement read on the state-owned SSTV.
He stressed that UNISFA has the full responsibility to provide security and protect lives and properties belonging to citizens.
Aguer further said the army remains committed to its constitutional mandate to protect South Sudan’s territory, but did not disclose whether the SPLA would intervene to provide security to the people of Abyei, if it is provoked militarily.
Meanwhile, at least 35,000 people, out of about 105,000 displaced by the 11 May 2011 conflict in the oil-producing region have returned to their areas of origin within weeks of hostilities, humanitarian agencies said.
An additional 14,000 people, the United Nations said in its weekly bulletin, have returned to their villages or areas of origin in the Abyei area, with about 56,000 reportedly remaining in South Sudan and areas south of the River Kiir.
The status of Abyei, a disputed region, remains one of the main outstanding issues that Sudan and South Sudan have not resolved since the latter seceded from the former in July 2011.
To resolve the issue, however, the African Union has proposed that the referendum to decide the fate of Abyei be held in October this year. The plebiscite, initially scheduled for January 2011 did not take place after Khartoum insisted that the nomadic Misseriya tribe, who are not inhabitants of the area but enter Abyei with their cattle for part of the year, be allowed to vote.
In recent weeks, tensions between the Misseriya and the Dinka Ngok over grazing and water have reportedly increased as the two groups come into greater contact. To diffuse tensions, however, UNISFA peacekeepers are maintaining a buffer zone separating the migration corridors from Abyei town.