September 24, 2013 (KUACJOK, Warrap State) - The African Union says it objects any unilateral decision by either Sudan or South Sudan to determine the future of Abyei, a border area claimed by both nations.
- Ethiopian United Nations peacekeepers patrol the outskirts of the disputed Abyei town that straddles the border between Sudan and South Sudan September 16, 2013. (Photo Reuters/Andreea Campeanu)
The African Union Peace and Security Council released a communiqué on Tuesday urging "the two countries not to undertake any unilateral actions concerning Abyei that might impede progress towards the implementations" of the commitments they have made to resolve the dispute.
Abyei was due to hold a referendum in January 2011 but is was delayed as the two sides could not agree on who should be allowed to participate. Under a proposal put forward by the AU’s special panel on the Sudans a referendum is scheduled to take place in October.
Also, the two sides disagree on the process to resolve the dispute. Juba wants to prioritise holding the plebiscite to decide the area’s future, whereas Khartoum insists that this cannot happen until interim institutions are created with representatives of the native Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya.
Frustration on the side of the Dinka Ngok has led to some to call for the self- determination referendum to go-ahead without the involvement or approval of the Sudanese government.
If the vote were to take place without the Misseriya, the Dinka Ngok would be expected to overwhelmingly opt for Abyei to be transferred back into South Sudan.
The area was moved into South Kordofan state for administrative by the British over 100 years ago during colonial rule. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement provides it remains part of the Sudan until the organisation of the referendum.
Tuesday’s meeting called on the presidents of South Sudan and Sudan to expeditiously proceed with the implementation of the Agreement on Temporary Administrative and Security Arrangements for the Abyei Area that was signed on 20 June 2011.
The continental body calls for facilitation of the rapid and safe return of refugees and displaced persons, assist with the rehabilitation and development of the communities in and adjacent to Abyei, and provide for peaceful migration of nomadic pastoralists during the coming dry season.
The AU further called for a special partners’ conference to provide assistance to Abyei and that 2% of oil revenues originating from Abyei is used for the development of the area, as per previous agreements.
The African leaders also reiterated acceptance of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel Proposal (AUHIP) on the final status of Abyei of 21 September 2012.
The two presidents were urged to resume their discussions on the final status of Abyei on the basis of this proposal, bearing in mind the need to ensure that Abyei serves as a bridge between South Sudan and Sudan, as envisaged in the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Luka Biong Deng, a senior member of South Sudan’s governing party said the Council did not endorse the AUHIP’s, proposal which calls for the conduct of the referendum in October but that it urged the two governments to establish the Abyei Area Referendum Commission, review and adopt a revised referendum law in line with the AUHIP proposal and requests both governments to submit the list of their nominees to the AUHIP.
The meeting of the AUPSC comes at a time of improved relations between the two countries and the heads of state, perhaps explaining why the Council was reluctant to take any decision that upset the recent improvement in ties.
Until a meeting earlier this month between the two presidents in Khartoum, Sudan had been threatening to stop allowing South Sudan to export its oil through its territory.