September 11, 2013 (JUBA) – Rights activists and civil society organisations from the contested border region of Abyei have petitioned US president Barack Obama, calling on his administration to provide support for the conduct of a referendum on the future of the area.
- U.S. President Barack Obama (Whitehouse)
Petitioners have pleaded for Obama to intervene personally to convince international leaders to provide support for the conduct of a referendum on the area, as he did in 2010 which ultimately saw South Sudan secede from the north after a similar vote was held in July 2011.
“A key factor in the success of the South Sudan referendum was your personal engagement with international leaders at the 2010 UNGA (United Nations general assembly) to ensure a peaceful and timely referendum. We respectfully request your involvement again. The referendum is a critical step that will remove a point of dangerous contention between Sudan and South Sudan and it will allow the region to stabilise and develop and to serve as a bridge of peace and economic opportunity between the two countries”, the petition, dated 10 September, reads in part.
“Specifically, we would ask you to encourage the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) to outline a specific timeline for preparation and conduct of the referendum and to include the measures that will be taken by the international community if the timeline is not adhered to strictly, such as to request the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution to declare Abyei as a UN protectorate area”, it adds
The petition also thanks the US government and its people for investing time and resources in its efforts to date to resolve the dispute over the region.
“The Abyei community is writing to express our thanks to the United States for its significant investment in Abyei and to request your personal support for the October 2013 Abyei Referendum”, says the letter, a copy of which was also sent to Sudan Tribune on Tuesday.
The petitioners say the Abyei Referendum was a “fruitful product of the engagement” by the US government during talks over the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended over two decades of civil war between the two sides.
The group also expressed its gratitude to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for its September 2012 proposal on the final status of Abyei and its acceptance by the AUPSC as a fair African solution for the Abyei issue.
A referendum to decide the fate of the Abyei area was initially scheduled for January 2011, but disagreements between the ruling parties of Sudan and South Sudan over who was eligible to participate has led to a stalemate.
In an attempt to break the deadlock last year, the AU proposed that the plebiscite go ahead in October 2013, but only for those permanently residing in the area.
The proposal effectively excludes the Arab Misseriya nomads, who also lay claim to the area, from participating in the ballot, with the South-aligned Dinka Ngok tribe expected to vote overwhelmingly in favour of joining South Sudan.
Khartoum has rejected the plan, but AU mediators stress the exclusion of the Misseriya nomads is consistent with the decision of the International Court of Arbitration in July 2009, which defined Abyei’s territory as the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms.
A recent summit in Khartoum between South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and his Sudanese counterpart, Omer Hassan Al-Bashir, also failed to break the deadlock, with Sudan reaffirming its position that pubic services and local institutions must be established first before holding a referendum.
Petitioners say ongoing uncertainty about the future of the region continued to cause great distress to Abyei citizens.
“Our community is still deeply grieving the loss of livelihoods and innocent lives, our homeland, and of course, the recent assassination of paramount chief Kuol Deng Kuol, a great peacemaker”, reads the petition.
Kuol, the chief of the nine Dinka Ngok chiefdoms, was shot dead in May after a UN convoy he was travelling in was attacked by armed members of the Misseriya tribe - the Arab nomads