October 3, 2013 (JUBA) - South Sudan President Salva Kiir said "time is running out" for peace efforts to materialise over Abyei, a contested oil border region, arguing that conducting referendum in the area would bring lasting peace between the two Sudans.
- South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir delivers a speech in the capital Juba, June 10, 2013 (Reuters)
The president made the remarks Tuesday at a meeting with South Sudan’s high national committee for the Abyei referendum, also attended by Deng Alor in his capacity as head of the committee.
It was the first time for Alor to meet with president Kiir since he was suspended over a financial scandal, leading to his dismissal from cabinet position in June.
Kiir affirmed commitment of his administration to negotiating with Sudan in good faith, but said the latter’s position on the issue of Abyei was "disappointing and obstinate".
"There is nothing we have never tried to resolve the conflict except violent. We have followed all through negotiations and courts and again negotiations but still like we are beginning the process. Time is running out and the windows of peace are narrowing and the opportunities are diminishing. The last summit in Khartoum did not reach any conclusion”, Kiir told the meeting.
Kiir assured the government of neigbouring Sudan that the conduct of the referendum to determine the status of Abyei would not deny the Misseriya tribe access to water and pasture in the area, calling on authorities in Khartoum to encourage the nomads to work with his administration to "sow the seeds of good neighbourliness" between the two communities.
“Conducting [the] referendum will remove tension and bring lasting peace in the area”, a senior official who attended the meeting quoted president as saying.
The South Sudan leader urged Sudan to order the Misseriya to stop settling in areas defined by the International Court of Arbitration as belonging to the Nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms.
He said building settlements on occupied land in areas north of Abyei town with intention to "change the facts on the ground” undermines peaceful efforts to resolve conflict over the area.
“The settlement of the nomads is one of the key issues that must be encouraged and should be stopped immediately", Kiir reportedly said.
"The international community is asked to condemn and stop any actions on the ground that would undermine peaceful measure. It must be stopped".
Alor confirmed participating in the meeting with the president, saying the Abyei community leadership wanted to hear from the president and inform him about the ongoing activities in the area, what needs to be done and how it could be handled.
“It was a briefing meeting on the part of the president and also for the community leadership to inform him on the ongoing activities. People are now returning to the area but they need to be informed what the government is doing and what they are expected to do as citizens. Everyone has got a role to play. The citizen must return while the government engages the international community on possibilities to conduct the referendum on time”, Alor told Sudan Tribune.
He did not comment on whether his community would conduct a “unilateral vote” should the international community fail to pressure Sudan into accepting the conduct of referendum this month as suggested by the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for the Sudans.
The AU has already warned both nations against undertaking unilateral actions, instead encouraging implementation of earlier commitments made, urging them to "urgently" resume discussions on its proposal to resolve the final status of the disputed oil-producing region.
Abyei had originally been scheduled to hold the vote in 2011 as apart of 2005 peace deal but it was delayed as the two sides could not agree on who should be allowed to take part.