By Ngor Arol Garang
March 25, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan on Sunday blamed Khartoum for postponing a joint meeting scheduled to have taken place 22-23 March regarding the disputed territory of Abyei, a senior official said on Sunday.
- Luka Biong August 4, 2011 (Credit: Jonathan Hutson, Enough Project)
The meeting was supposed to have worked towards improving the security situation along the north-south border areas.
Luka Biong Deng, a co chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee representing the Republic of South Sudan said Sudan had once against postponed the meeting agreed to have been convened in the border contested town of Abyei this week without giving an alternative date.
“This is the third time it has been postponed and it has been postponed indefinitely this. No date has been picked”, Biong told Sudan Tribune.
Biong said that the meeting was “very important” because it was going to examine achievements made from the previous meetings and to discuss way forward on how to facilitate return of displaced people and seasonal migration through the area by Arab nomadic tribe the Missiriya.
It was Juba’s refusal to accept Khartoum’s demand that the Misseriya take part in a self determination vote in January 2011 that has led the status of the area remaining unresolved.
Abyei, was to hold a plebiscite simultaneous to South Sudan’s independence referendum but the the failure to agree on which groups were resident in the area, meant it did not go ahead.
South Sudan insists that the Dinka Ngok are Abyei’s permanent residents, while Khartoum insisted that the Misseriya, who enter the region seasonally with their cattle should also be granted a vote.
“There are a lot of nomads currently in the area wanting to move further south of Abyei with their cattle and there are also people returning to their areas”, said Biong explaining that managing interactions between the communities was one issues of the meeting had wanted to discuss.
Sudan’s military moved into the region in May 2011 following an attack on a convoy of theirs in the are by southern forces. Thousands were displaced and large areas burnt and looted.
Negotiations between the two-sides in Addis Ababa in Juba led to an agreement to allow UN-mandated Ethiopian peacekeepers into the region to oversee the withdrawal of both the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and armed groups aligned with - or part of South Sudan’s SPLA.
However, the ability for United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) to operate effectively is being hindered by Khartoum’s refusal to sign the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) Biong says.
At an event at the Overseas Development Institute 14 March he made same point by video link but praised his northern Sudanese counterpart on the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee for having a genuine desire for acting in the interests of the northern nomads that rather than the wishes of the Khartoum government.
The Sudanese Ambassador to the UK who attended the event in London refused to answer why Khartoum had not signed the SOFA when asked to clarify the government’s position on SOFA, highlighting that the Misseriya must be involved in any referendum.
Biong said on Sunday that both the UN and South Sudan government was ready to sign the agreement.
“The signing of this document is very important because it legalise the mandate of the peacekeeping forces of the United Nation. Otherwise they are vulnerable when carrying their activities in the area”, he said
The former cabinet minister further said the postponed meeting was also due to examine how oil produced in the area could be used to fund police services and the local administration.
Another area the meeting was supposed to address was the issue of security so that it can see how best it could be addressed in line with recommendations provided for in the June 2011 Addis Ababa agreement.