September 12, 2013 (JUBA) - South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit has urged the citizens of the contested region of Abyei to return home in preparation for a referendum vote, despite Khartoum’s rejection of the African Union-backed proposal.
- South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir addresses a news conference inside his office in the capital Juba regarding floods crisis which have displaced thousands, on September 12, 2013. (Photo ReutersAndreea Campeanu)
Kiir made the remarks while delivering a speech dedicated to the current flood crisis that has hit six of 10 South Sudan states and displaced thousands of people since heavy rains begun in August.
"We tell the people of Abyei to return home early so that they [can] participate in the referendum”, said Kiir in a statement broadcast by the state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV) on Thursday.
He said his administration continued to urge the international community to exert pressure on Sudan to accept the conduct of the referendum as the only viable solution to resolve the dispute over the area.
"The citizens of Abyei can return to their homes so that they are physically present to participate in all [of] the process, especially voter registration when it is started. They should return now as we are exerting efforts to push Khartoum to accept the conduct", he said.
Kiir maintains that conditions attached by Khartoum as a prerequisite to the conduct of the referendum were unacceptable.
"They (government of Sudan) have accepted the conduct of the referendum but attach certain things which we do not accept. They want joint institutions which is not the priority. We want a referendum commission to be established first because this is what will resolve the dispute", he said.
Khartoum, which refuses the referendum without the participation of the Sudanese Misseriya nomads, demands that a joint administration and a legislative council are established first. While Khartoum says it is committed to the vote to determine the fate of the disputed area, the Sudanese government also call for negotiations to achieve a lasting solution.
The organisation of the referendum in October was proposed last year by the head of the African Union panel for Sudan and South Sudan, Thabo Mbeki.
The former South African president during short visits to the two capitals last week, held talks with presidents Omer Al-Bashir and Salva Kiir after their summit in Khartoum. He hailed their positive spirit and determination to implement the signed agreements but remained silent over Abyei.
APPEALS FOR SHELTER AND FOOD
Meanwhile, Edward Lino, co-chair of the Abyei Joint Abyei Committee (AJOC) representing South Sudan, appealed for assistance from well-wishers to provide food and shelter for those returning home to participate in the referendum.
"A lot of people from the diaspora are coming to participate in the referendum. We have 400 people coming from Ethiopia alone, more than 240 coming from Uganda and Kenya. We have people coming from Sudan. We have people coming Canada, Australia, America and in other parts of the world. They want to participate in the referendum. These people need food and shelter. And you know our people have never had the opportunity to settle down so that they could cultivate to support those returning home, Lino said in a statement broadcast on SSTV on Wednesday.
POLITICS OF BUYING TIME
Lino has also accused Sudan of using tricks and politics to prevent the referendum going ahead, as happened during the interim period when a vote had been due to take place simultaneously with the referendum on South Sudanese independence on 9 January 2011.
"The National Congress Party (NCP) has no manners. They are the ones creating this enmity and confusion. We have never had any problem with the Misseriya (Arab nomads). The Misseriya we know do not have any single problem with our people because we have never rejected their coming to access water and pasture. It is the government of Sudan which is the problem and the Misseriya should know this. We have been telling them that your interest is in the South and the government of South Sudan will uphold it. They [will] still have access to water and pasture as it were before”, he said.
Lino said the issue of the referendum was fast becoming a red line for the people of his native region of Abyei.
"Our people have heard enough. They have suffered in the hands of the government of Sudan for more than four decades, so they know that they will not vote to remain with them anymore. They know it. This is why they have been avoiding the conducting of the referendum because they know very well that they will be embarrassed by the result. The result will be a complete embarrassment because it will be a 100 percent vote for a return to the South”, he said.
Ngor Ayuel, the deputy chairperson of the Abyei community in Juba, said he could think of nothing that would stop the people of Abyei from voting to return to the South from where the region was transferred to Kordofan province during British rule in 1905 at the request of chief Deng Kuol Arop.
"Khartoum knows this and they actually made it worse when they killed our paramount chief Kuol Deng Kuol, who was the link between the two communities. The value of his life is the return of Abyei to the South. This will be [the] only valuable compensation for his life”, said Ayuel.
DEATH OF ABYEI CHIEF
Kuol Deng Kuol, was the paramount chief of the Nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdoms of Abyei until his death in May 2013.
The former chief died when a convoy he was travelling in with the United Nations Interim Force for Abyei (UNISFA) was ambushed by armed members of the nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe on as they returned to Abyei town after a visit further north.
Kuol was part of a joint delegation from Juba and Khartoum that visited the area to hold talks on how the two sides could move forward with consultations to end the deadlock on the formation of a temporary administration in the strife-torn border zone.
The delegation had held talks in Abyei town from the 3-4 May, before travelling north to Kej for similar talks and to familiarise themselves with the activities of oil companies operating there.