October 11, 2013 (JUBA) - The South Sudanese president Salva Kiir has officially written to the African Union (AU) over the deadlock and subsequent failure to strike a deal with neighbouring Sudan on how to resolve the dispute over Abyei.
- South Sudan’s Salva Kiir at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa (goss/Kenneth Thomas)
In his 9 October letter addressed to the AU Commission (AUC), Kiir provides a descriptive account of the genesis of the decades-old conflict, as well as outlining the reasons why the two sides have so far failed to resolve their differences over the disputed region.
The letter, delivered by the country’s foreign minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, demanded that the continental body takes full responsibility of the matter.
The AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), chaired by the former South African president Thabo Mbeki, last year recommended that the long-awaited referendum on the status of the disputed region be held this month.
A referendum in Abyei was to be held simultaneously with that of South Sudan in January 2011, but both Sudan and South Sudan failed to agree on who was eligible to participate in the vote.
While South Sudan backed the AU panel’s proposal and want a referendum involving the Ngok Dinka, who are resident in the area, Sudan has demanded that the Arab nomadic Misseriya, who enter the area periodically in search of water and pasture for their animals, be allowed to participate.
Khartoum also insists that interim institutions be established before any plebiscite take place in the contested oil-producing region.
Kiir’s letter, Marial said, informs the AU Commission chairperson about South Sudan’s impossibility to reach an understanding with Sudan anytime soon, citing the repeated failure of the two heads of states to strike a deal over Abyei’s final status.
“The message is basically about efforts the government has made to resolve the issue with the government of Sudan without success. You may recall that the two presidents have had the opportunity to discuss at length the issue of Abyei in various forums and places. Direct discussions have been held at all levels, including summits between the two presidents in Addis Ababa, Juba and Khartoum but [both were] not until now able to come out with an agreement on the final status of Abyei”, Marial told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
“The president is convinced that he would never agree with [Sudanese] president [Omer Hassan] al-Bashir even if they were to be allowed to discuss the status for [a] hundred years and therefore decided to request the African Union Commission to take complete and full responsibility”, he added.
He said the letter asks the AU to include Abyei referendum as “an urgent matter on the agenda to be discussed during the upcoming AU head of states summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Saturday.
“It calls for an extraordinary meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) to finally endorse the AUHIP proposal, as well as take bold and decisive action to initiate the formation of the Abyei referendum commission to conduct the vote in October as was already proposed and approved by the AUPSC”, the minister said.
The letter calls on the continental body to appoint the chairperson of the commission to ask both Sudan and South Sudan to send their nominees to participate in the composition of the referendum, he added.
According to Marial, Kiir’s letter also urges Sudan to complete an immediate, full and unconditional withdrawal of its forces in Abyei and to allow the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) to take full control over the area as mandated by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1990 issued in 2011.
MACHAR CALLS FOR EU SUPPORT
Meanwhile, the deputy SPLM leader, Riek Machar, called on the European Union on Friday to support the conduct of the Abyei referendum, stressing that South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has always remained committed to the successful conduct of a unilateral vote in the disputed region.
During a meeting held in Juba with Rosalind Marsden, the EU representative for the two Sudans, the former vice-president also called on the European body to send its observers to Abyei to witness the exercise and recognise the outcome of the vote.