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South Sudan says Abyei will be reclaimed “at any cost”

May 5,2013 (JUBA) – South Sudan said on Sunday that it will reclaim the oil- producing region of Abyei from the government of neighboring Sudan with which it has repeatedly failed to settle the region’s final status “at any cost”, and repeated accusation to Khartoum of “masterminding” the killing of paramount chief Kuol Deng Kuol on Saturday.

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South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit (Reuters)

Kuol,was killed during following a standoff that lasted for several hours with armed members of the Misseriya who claimed that the Dinka Ngok chief was passing through their land without permission.

However, Sudan’s interior ministry said in a statement today that the armed Misseriya demanded from Kuol that their stolen cattle stolen by Dinka Ngok returned to them.

The tribal leader was being escorted in a convoy protected by the United Nations Interim Force for Abyei (UNISFA) in the presence of its Ethiopian commander Major General Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam.

The ministry blamed Kuol for visiting northern Abyei region inhabited by the Misseriya without informing the monitors.

It is not clear who fired the first shot but a Misseriya chief told Agence France Presse (AFP) that the clash happened when a UN peacekeeper soldier shot one of the Misseriya who was readying his weapon.

Sudan said that yesterday’s incidents resulted in 17 deaths and 12 injuries among the Misseriya.

Two people were killed from the Dinka Ngok side including Kuol. One peacekeeper was
killed on spot and two others seriously injured. Later one of the injured soldiers passed away.

South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit sprung up to his feet at a mourning function held in Juba today saying the issue should be left to the governments of Khartoum and Juba to handle it but stressed that he was certain the region would one day return to the South “at any cost”.

“This is sad. No one had expected this to happen at a time when we have accepted to give peace a chance. President Bashir and I have accepted and declared at the press conference here when he visited Juba to work together for peace. I know it pains but this should be left to the government to see what to do. And I only want to assure you that I am certain that Abyei will one day come to the south at any cost”, Kiir told thousands of mourners on Sunday.

South Sudanese minister of information Barnaba Marial said the government condemned the attack in the "strongest term possible" and called on the international community, particularly the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and African Union to investigate and hold those responsible to account.

“The government of the republic of South Sudan condemns this unwarranted and unprovoked attack. This cowardly act of terrorism is unacceptable”, Marial told reporters Sunday.

The minister did not say what the government planned to do but said president Kiir had been engaged in discussion with Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir over the issue since yesterday.

"The government is committed to pursuing this issue. President Salva Kiir Mayardit himself has since yesterday been engaged with president Bashir in discussion to find out how to address the issue”, he said.

South Sudan’s Cabinet Affairs Minister, Deng Alor Kuol accused Sudan of effectively helping members of the Arabs nomads of Misseriya with weapons to carry out attacks in the area.

Minister Alor said chief Kuol was killed with another elder from the area and six others, five of whom are members of the Ethiopians nationals serving as part of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in the area.

Three others were wounded and are in stable condition. He warned that the killing of the paramount chief would “open the door to all possibilities", without elaborating on the remarks but officials and residents argued supply of weapons.

Speaking at the same function, Edward Lino, the Co-Chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), on the side of South Sudan and who is also the head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) branch office in the area, said while wiping his face from shedding tears that “he is very sad but was sure the area would not remain in Sudan even if it means losing the whole population in the course of fighting for the liberation of the people from years of bondage”.

“The world is helplessly looking on events unfolding in Abyei as if they are watching soccer. The international community, particularly key players, the America and her allies, the Security Council of the United Nations, the African Union and the regional leaders have left Abyei to be constantly subjected to heinous crimes and killing always committed by the criminals and the indicted president of Sudan and his government. They do not care what the international community says. They believe in seeing”, Lino told reporters Sunday.

Lino said he was only waiting to recover from his sickness and will move into the area with youth group who will accept to follow him.

“I am sad this happened. The issue of Abyei is very simple. It is simple thing because it is about land. This land belongs to us and we will get it from any animal or person by all means because it is ours. Nobody will ever deny our right”, Lino explained to the mourners mainly women and youth groups from the area.

UNISFA SHOOTS AT PROTESTERS IN ABYEI

Meanwhile thousands of people in Agok and in Abyei took to the streets to protest the killing of the chief, burning down shops belonging to Sudanese traders in Abyei town and bringing down a mosque, resulting into exchange of fire with members of the Ethiopian forces in the town.

Local officials and relatives said “three juveniles” were shot in the protest by the United Nations Interim Force for Abyei (UNISFA), generating disquiet and tension in town and the surrounding area.

“Three children, very young below 18 years have been shot by the UNISFA during the protest. They have not died but they are in critical condition. I think Ethiopian forces have a problem with our people. They shoot at our innocent and unarmed civilians and leave those who pose the danger. The Misseriya are at large holding weapons and attacking and killing people and UNISFA does not respond. They only respond when it is something related to the concern of our people”, Mijak Dau, a senior Civil Servant in Abyei town, an administrative headquarters of the area said.

It was unclear whether there were members of the Misseriya tribe or traders from other states in Sudan who were injured or killed during the protests although authorities said no Sudanese nationals were in town during protest.

"There are no traders from Sudan in the area. They fled yesterday after learning the incident. The town is now empty. The protesters only burned empty shops without goods", said Kuol Deng, a civil servant in Abyei.

Abyei was scheduled to have a referendum in January 2011 to decide its fate but it never took place as Khartoum and Juba disagreed on who should be able to participate.

Last year, the African Union mediation team proposed that a referendum be held in the contested region this October, but 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 proposal 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, not part of the voting.

According to the mediators, exclusion of the Misseriya nomads, in line with the decision of the Hague-based arbitration court, which defined the territory of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms in July 2009.

However, Sudan swiftly rejected the plan, which received the blessing of the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC)

(ST)