March 22, 2013 (JUBA) - The Khartoum government is reported to have abandoned its demand to hold 50% of the positions in the administration of Abyei, the main area of dispute along the international border between Sudan and South Sudan.
The announcement is an apparent breakthrough after months of deadlock over the composition of the Abyei Area Administration and renews hopes that a referendum, postponed in January 2011, could be held in October this year, as recommended by the African Union panel (AUHIP) mediating between the two nations.
Deng Mading Mijak, South Sudan’s newly-appointed deputy co-chairperson of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), told Sudan Tribune on Friday that differences over how to allocate and share the legislature and executive powers in the joint interim administration “has been resolved”.
“There is no problem. The difference over how to allocate and share legislature and executive powers has been resolved. The establishment of the interim administration will be 60% for the South and 40% for the north”, said Mijak.
He urged those who fled the area when it was taken over by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), shortly before South Sudan’s independence in 2011, to consider returning to the oil-producing area to register for the upcoming vote.
“I urge our people to return home in order to be registered so that they can be able to vote at the referendum”, he said.
He explained that the Abyei vote will differ from the plebiscite that led to South Sudan’s independence as only those present in the area will be permitted to cast a ballot, whereas in South Sudan’s secession referendum those in north Sudan and in the diaspora were also allowed to take part.
The official expressed his gratitude to South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit for the recent appointment of Edward Lino Wuor as the new co-chair of AJOC, commending the role played by their predecessor Luka Biong Deng.
He denied that Deng was relieved by the decision due to the pressures he faced over differences in his handling of issues.
“What comrade Luka Biong [Deng] had done was exceptionally incredible. He made a lot of tremendous achievements. He laid down a strong foundation. What are left are just small details for implementation. Actually his departure is a great loss but the good thing is that he will be helping us in any way he could wherever he will be”, Mijak explained in an interview.
Deng has just begun a one-year fellowship at the prestigious Harvard University in the United States.
He further stressed that the replacement of Deng with his deputy was “a personal decision” and was not “because of any pressure or failure in the assignment of the job given to him by the president.”
However, critics of the way Deng handled the Abyei situation have welcomed his departure, claiming his successor will enjoy more public support.
Deng Kuol, a native of Abyei told Sudan Tribune in Juba on Friday that he did not see any good reason why the government of Sudan should be allowed to participate in the joint interim administration.
The two sides agreed to establish the administration in order to facilitate the return of those displaced by SAF’s occupation in 2011 and to oversee the conduct of the referendum.
The Abyei area was defined in July 2009 in the International Permanent Court of Arbitration, after the recommendations of a committee created as part of the 2005 north-South peace deal were rejected by Khartoum.
According to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Abyei belongs to the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms, which were transferred to the Kordofan province in central Sudan in 1905 under Anglo-Egyptian rule.
The CPA stipulates that only those permanently resident in Abyei are eligible to vote in the referendum. That being the case, members of the Dinka Ngok, who are traditionally more aligned with the South, would be expected to opt for the region to join South Sudan.
However, Sudan has argued that Arab Misseriya nomads who enter the area for part of the year should also be allowed to vote, with Juba’s rejection of this demand the initial cause of the vote being delayed.
Deng previously argued that the decision to allow the Misseriya to participate in Abyei’s interim institutions was made in order to achieve their longer term strategic objective - a referendum to finalise the status of the area.
In a series of statements to Sudan Tribune late last year, Deng argued that the decision to give seats in the Abyei Legislative Council to the government of Sudan during the interim period was made by the president after consultations with Abyei’s leaders and groups. The intention, he said, was to break the ongoing deadlock and end deliberate and unjustifiable demands by the Sudanese government.