September 18, 2013 (WAU) - South Sudanese president Salva Kiir said on Wednesday that his country is seeking an urgent, coordinated and strong commitment from the international community to help overcome the impasse over the status of the border region of Abyei.
- South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir wipes his face as he addresses a news conference regarding floods in six of its 10 states which have displaced thousands, inside his office in the capital Juba September 12, 2013 (REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu)
The oil producing area remains in dispute between Sudan and South Sudan, after a referendum originally scheduled for January 2011 has been repeatedly delayed for disagreements over who is eligible to participate.
South Sudan’s own self determination vote did go ahead in January 2011 leading to its independence from its northern neighbor six months later.
Relations between the two neighbors have improved in recent weeks following Kiir’s visit to Khartoum but the issue of Abyei remains thorny, with Sudan’s foreign minister Ali Karti warning last week against attempts to impose unilateral solution that could open the "gates of hell".
IMPROVED NORTH-SOUTH RELATIONS
In a speech in Western Bahr el Ghazal state capital of Wau, Kiir said South Sudan was gradually witnessing improved contacts with the government of Sudan disclosing that there is a direct telephone contact between him and Sudan’s president Omer al Bashir "when there is any issue we need to discuss in regard to the cooperation agreement".
Bashir, had "reaffirmed his commitment to working together when I visited Khartoum recently, but there are issues we have not yet resolved despite this progress in the relations", most notably Abyei.
Under an African Union (AU) proposal put forward by Thabo Mbeki’s mediation team a referendum on Abyei is supposed to take place next month.
The proposal states that only those residing permanently in the area would be allowed to vote in the plebiscite and decide whether they want to join Sudan or South Sudan.
This plan would effectively make the majority of voters come from the Dinka Ngok tribe, aligned with South Sudan, thus putting the Arab Misseriya nomads, who spend several months in Abyei every year grazing, outside the voting population.
The Sudanese government swiftly rejected the AU plan and insisted that the Misseriya should be allowed to participate in the referendum. Khartoum also emphasized that interim civil institutions be established first.
"They need joint institutions to be established first but we are saying formation of referendum commission should be given priority,” said Kiir.
“The issue of Abyei is now one of the issues we are pushing for final settlement. We want the differences to be settled peacefully through referendum in the same spirit our referendum was conducted. We do not want to use violence”, he said.
He reiterated calls for the people of Abyei to return home in preparation for the conduct of the referendum while his administration exerts efforts to push the AU and the international community to press Sudan to accept the proposal to conduct the referendum in the area as planned.
“We would like the international community to urgently show strong commitment and coordinated efforts so that the government of Sudan is pushed to endorse the proposal and accept the conduct of the referendum. It is only the other side which is not committed but we are ready. That is why we tell the people of Abyei to go to the area so that if the process starts it will find them there”, he said.
He expressed optimism that the referendum will be conducted but that it may not be as planned.
“The Abyei referendum will certainly be conducted. It will take place although it might not take place as planned. So we need to continue the talking with Khartoum while we prepare for all the process. We are also asking the international community to step in and give necessary assistance”, he said.
The conflict over where Abyei should be north or south of the border started immediately after Sudan gained independence from Britain in 1956 when the natives, predominantly members of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms, started demanding return to the South, resulting in the mass killing and displacements.
Attempts to determine the status failed twice with the first one that was supposed to be carried in 1972 following the signing of the Addis Ababa agreement which ended the first Sudanese civil war.
Juba believes that Khartoum is using the Misseriya to prevent Sudan loosing the oil-rich fertile region.
The government of South Sudan wants the nine Ngok Dinka to be the only eligible voters with other residents who are known to permanently reside in Abyei. South Sudan and the Ngok Dinka have promised the Misseriya that they will still be able to access the area with their cattle.
ABYEI HOPES LIFTED
Deng Mading Mijak, a senior member of the South Sudan’s governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) who hails from Abyei, says the only way to resolve the conflict over the region was for African leaders to endorse Mbeki’s proposal and allows the referendum to proceed.
Mijak argued that the hopes of people of Abyei were lifted again when the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) in its report to the African Union Peace and Security Council meeting in July 2013 recognized the deteriorating situation and growing disappointment in Abyei.
The report stated that “for many residents of Abyei, who have lived through repeated failures to implement past agreements, there appears to be no further patience to delay the implementation of a final settlement”.
In a letter petitioning African leaders Mijak said:
"More importantly, the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel made a clear and timely recommendation to the African Union Peace and Security Council that states “in these circumstances, the AUHIP has no alternative but to reiterate the AUPSC’s view that the AUHIP 21 September Proposal, in its entirety, forms the basis for a fair, equitable and workable solution to the matter of Abyei and should be implemented as it stands and in accordance with the timetable as proposed, unless the Government of Sudan and the Government of South Sudan present agreed amendments to this Proposal.”
The letter dated September 15, bears his signature as the chairperson of the Abyei community organization in Juba and the nine Ngok Chiefdoms of the Abyei area.
Other signatories of the petition included The Abyei Civil Society Organizations in Abyei Area represented by Rou Manyiel and the Abyei Community Organization in the United States of America. The group addressed their letter to the Chairperson of the African Union High-level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), Thabo Mbeki.
They drew the attention of the members of AUPSC that in a series of summits between President Salva and President Bashir in September 2012, January 2013, April 2013, May 2013 and September 2013, the AUHIP proposal on Abyei was discussed but without agreement. Specifically, in the last summit in September 2013 in Khartoum, the two Presidents failed to agree on the AUHIP Proposal on Abyei nor did they come with agreed amendments to the Proposal, and they have subsequently reached a dead-end on Abyei.
“Any delay by the AUPSC to endorse the AUHIP Proposal on Abyei will exacerbate the deteriorating and volatile situations in Abyei and that may result in more displacement and loss of more innocent lives as happened to the Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief Kuol Deng. We have strong trust in the AUPSC and its ability to resolve the issue of Abyei within its commitments in roadmap of putting the two countries on the path of peace and stability. As our hopes squarely rest with the AUPSC and international community, the people of Abyei can no longer allow the government of Sudan to trample their rights and to dictate their future”, the group said in a letter sent to Sudan Tribune.
They urged the AUPSC to firstly endorse the AUHIP September 2012 Proposal on the final status of Abyei and immediately form Abyei Referendum Commission to conduct the Referendum in October 2013. The petitioners also called on the leaders making the continental body to outline a specific timeline for preparation and conduct of Abyei referendum and to ask the government of Sudan to withdraw its forces from Kec (Diffra) in Abyei Area.
"With these decisions, Abyei will play a critical role not only in serving as a bridge of peace and development opportunities between the two countries in the context of the framework provided for in the African Union High Level Implementation Panel Proposal on Abyei but also in strengthening the current improved relations between the two countries", the letter adds in part.
Copies of the letter were sent to;
- all members of United Nations Security Council (UNSC);
- the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon;
- Executive Secretary of Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD);
- Russian Special Envoy to Africa;
- Norwegian Special Envoy for the Sudan and South Sudan;
- Chinese Special Representatives on African Affairs;
- The Chairperson of the AU Commission;
- US Special Envoy for the Sudan and South Sudan;
- EU Special Representative for Sudan and South Sudan;
- the UN Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan’
- the UK Special Representative for Sudan and South Sudan.