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African mediation proposes referendum in Abyei and special status for nomads

September 22, 2012 (LONDON) — The African Union mediation proposed to organise a referendum in October 2013 in the disputed Abyei area but said the parties have to agree on a number of measures to restore confidence and guarantee customary rights of the Misseriya herders.

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People displaced by fighting in Abyei wait to be registered at a UN WFP distribution point in the village of Abathok May 19, 2008. (Reuters)

Abyei’s ownership is one of the most important issues that Sudan and South Sudan are discussing in Addis Ababa where a special summit is organised on Sunday 23 September between the presidents of the two countries to decide on a proposal forged by the mediation.

The main idea of the mediation that Abyei, in accordance with the peace agreement of 2005, is supposed to be a bridge between North and south Sudan but in fact it was a source tension and a factor of division during the interim period.

It also represents a threat to the ultimate goal of the process which is the establishment of two friendly and viable states in Sudan and South Sudan.

To preserve peace and promote good relations between the two nations the African Union mediation proposed in an initiative, seen by Sudan Tribune to presidents Omer Al-Bashir and Salva Kiir containing a number of measures to build confidence and to hold a referendum within one year.

Before this referendum, the parties have to clearly commit themselves to a number of issues allowing to preserve Ngok Dinka’s right in Abyei as "historical land" and "the historic role of the Misseriya" in Abyei whatever the outcome of the referendum is.

The mediation pointed out that this "historic role" means to establish a soft border between Abyei and the neighbouring states of Southern Kordofan and South Sudan in order to protect Misseriya’s rights of residing in the Area and to enable the free movement of people, livestock and good in both directions.

"South Sudan shall also guarantee by law the customary rights of all pastoralists to migrate, and utilize pasture and water, within South Sudan in accordance with their traditional seasonal migratory routes," the mediation said in its proposition.

The mediation says that the two parties, before the referendum also have to implement the 20 June 2011 agreement and to establish the interim administration. South Sudan’s demand to appoint a speaker from the Ngok Dinka delayed the process.

The African panel details also a number of points dealing with economic development and sharing of oil revue after the referendum where South Kordofan state will get 20% of the revenue of oil produced in Abyei.

It further proposes that Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) continues until the implementation of the referendum decision.

The committee will assist the referendum commission once formed in its duties and to oversee the implementation of the result of referendum .

The AJOC, on the other hand, shall form a special force to protect Diffra oil fields. Currently Sudan refuses to pull out its troops from the oil area because of the rebel activities in South Kordofan.


Regarding the vote of Abyei residents in the referendum to determine the future of the region on whether to remain in Sudan or to join South Sudan, it is proposed to give the chairmanship of the referendum body to an African personality agreed with the mediation.

Sudan and South Sudan will appoint two members from the two sides.

The two parties failed to agree over the formation of Abyei Area Referendum Commission because it has to determine who is eligible to take part in the vote.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 speaks about the Ngok Dinka and other Sudanese residents, as voters to determine the fate of the area. However, the two parties disagree over who from the pastoralists will participate.

Khartoum and Juba, with the support of the former U.S. envoy Scott Gration held a series of meeting in New York and Addis Ababa in October and November 2010 but they failed to agree on the participation of Misseriya herders who reside only several months in the area every year.

South Sudan says only the Misseriya residing permanently in Abyei can participate in the referendum .

The proposition made by the African Union provides that all the Ngok Dinka community and "other Sudanese residing in the Abyei Area” are entitled to vote in the referendum.

"The criterion for qualifying (the Sudanese residents) shall be permanent abode within the Abyei Area," the text of proposition says.