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Greater Bahr El-Ghazal endorses Sudan’s cooperation deal amid growing criticism

October 10, 2012 (JUBA) - Despite growing discontentment and criticism of last month’s deal between South Sudan and Sudan, a meeting of the four states of Greater Bahr el Ghazal region endorsed the agreement signed in Addis Ababa on September 27.

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Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir (2nd L) and his South Sudan’s counterpart Salva Kiir (2nd R) attend the signing ceremony of cooperation deals between the two countries in Addis Ababa on 27 Sept 2012 (Reuters)

The consultative forum in Juba brought together different groups including elders and prominent community leaders from Lakes State, Northern Bahr el Ghazal State (NBEG), Warrap State and Western Bahr el Ghazal State (WBEG).

The deal addressed outstanding issues since South Sudan’s independence last year. Under pressure from the UN Security Council the two sides in a process brokered by an Africa Union mediation team signed nine separate issues, including citizenship rights and creating a demilitarized buffer zone along the 2,000 kilometres international border.

Despite statements by the African Union and UN Security Council stressing that the lines of the buffer zone will have no bearing on any future resolution of the various border disputes, officials and citizens from Northern Bahr el Ghazal have been angered that South Sudan’s army will move out of the 14 Mile area to create the buffer zone.

At the meeting on Wednesday delegates said they “bureaucratically” agreed to endorse cooperation agreement which still needs to be endorsed by the parliaments of both nations. The gathering was intended to create consensus among the four states ahead of the vote.

Most hostility to the deal has come from Northern Bahr el Ghazal over "Mile 14", a disputed area of grazing land which stretches 23 Kilometres south of a river known as the Bahr Al-Arab in Sudan and the Kiir River in South Sudan.

The Malual Dinka tribe claim the land, which is also used by the Rizeigat tribe of East Darfur who enter the area with their cattle at some points of the year. Northern Bahr el Ghazal’s Governor has expressed unhappiness that deal involves the SPLA pulling out of the area.

Representatives from Unity State were also involved in the eight hours of heated debate over the Addis Ababa deal, declaring their support for position of Northern Bahr el Ghazal.

“We are behind the people of Northern Bahr el Ghazal. We will support you”, Simon Lueth, a native of Parieng County in Unity State who spoke on behalf of the state administration declared to audience.

Lueth blamed leading members of the Ngok Dinka of the contested region of Abyei for having contributed to the claim which government of Sudan lays over Heglig/Panthou and also the government of South Sudan for withdrawing troops from Karasana in 2008.

As part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement a commission was established to define the borders of Abyei. However, the findings were not accepted by Sudan and the issue was referred to the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

“We hold Luka Biong and Deng Alor responsible for including Panthou in the report of Abyei Boundary Commission (ABC). They knew very well that Panthou was never part of Abyei. We will not forgive them. They are source of this problem”, Lueth said warning that failure to address the issue would return the country to war.

The Hague court declared in 2009 that Heglig/Panthou was not part of the Abyei area. Sudan claims that this means the oil rich area is part of South Kordofan State. South Sudan denies this, pointing out that arbitration was to define the borders of Abyei not the north-south border.

The two sides fought over the area in April this year, triggering a UN Security Council resolution threatening both sides with sanction should they not resolve outstanding issues.

Pasqual Joseph, a representative of Western Bahr el Ghazal warned that any mistake to concede some disputed areas will have dire repercussions.

Joseph also expressed total objection to the "four freedoms" deal signed last month which gives citizens in both countries the freedom of residence, freedom of movement, freedom to undertake economic activity and freedom to acquire and dispose property. He argued that the deal will allow the government of Sudan to send spies camouflaging as traders into South Sudan.

“I tell you we have nothing to benefit out of four freedoms. I have been following [Radio] Omdurman and what I hear shows clearly that Khartoum benefited a lot. This is why they are now celebrating the signing of the agreement because their goods will once again get [to] the market. They have goods which they cannot sell to Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Chad and other neighbours. They will also take it as the opportunity to come and spy on us”, he said.

Joseph refuted the fact that many South Sudanese remain in north Sudan, and that many South Sudanese own property in Khartoum and other areas.

Other participants questioned benefits which four freedoms bring to the South Sudanese people and wondered why the government signed the deal without seeking public consultation.

“We understand the circumstances which compelled the countries to sign the deal. The economies of both countries were at the verge of collapsing. This is the fact which all of [us] should understand but there needs to have been consultations so that people get to understand and work together,” Ateny Wek Ateny, an intellectual from Northern Bahr el Ghazal State said in a keynote address.

Senior government officials from Northern Bahr el Ghazal including Governor Paul Malong Awan have strongly objected to the inclusion of the 14 mile area in the demilitarized buffer zone.

Ateny expressed discontent about the lack of representation of members from the area during negotiations involving the two countries, questioning why it was difficult to include members from area.

“If our negotiating team could not pronounce the names of our areas, then who else would pronounce them well,” Ateny said amid applause from meeting hall predominantly full of people from Northern Bahr el Ghazal .

The activist was referring to deputy minister of Interior Salva Mathok Gengdit who has struggled to pronounce the Malual Dinka names for places in the 14 Mile area.

Ateny said that Sudan appeared to want to take 14 mile area as “fall back” because it is likely have to give up its claims over Abyei. The African Union proposed a referendum on the issue of Abyei but Sudan has refused to agree until more members of the Misseriya tribe are allowed to vote. South Sudan maintains that only the Ngok Dinka are registered in the area and therefore they should decide the future of the fertile oil-producing area.

“It is clear that the government of Sudan will at long last give up on Abyei. This is why it is looking for a substitute as fall back but how easy getting it,” he said.

Aldo Ajou Akuey, a former deputy prime minister in Sudan, now working as the chairperson of the Human Rights Committee in South Sudan upper house - the Council of States - expressed his concerns with the agreement and questioned the implementation modalities of the deal.

General Kawac Makuei Kawac, a former Governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal and who has held number of other high-level positions in various governments expressed curiosity over inclusion of the area in the Safe Border Demilitarized Zone (SBDZ), leaving it to Joint Border Monitoring Mission (JBMM).

“This agreement is confusing. I have read it several times and have failed to understand it because what is being said differs from what is written. The 14 mile area has never been part of any agreement. It was not in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which the two parties in signed Nairobi in 2005. It was not part of post-secession issues. How suddenly did it become part of the contested areas that it has to be included in Safe Border Demilitarized Zone,” asked General Kawac.

But Paul Mayom Akec, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation argued that the agreement has a lot of benefits to the new nation particularly with regard to the four freedoms and bringing peace.

“We have some of our people who [own] properties in Khartoum and other states. This agreement will allow them to dispose of [them] if they want. It also allows our people go and buy goods from Sudan. Also is there is no country which is never sent spies. It is how the country manages it affairs that matter,” explained Akec.

Deputy Minister of Interior, Salva Mathok Gengdit, said the agreement was temporary and not final and admitted that the government did not consult members of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, but said this was because Juba’s negotiating team members were knowledgeable of the area.

“I was in Aweil. I know these areas more than other people from Aweil so there are no area I cannot pronounce well”, said Gengdit in response to questions about the competence of the negotiating team. The official said no agreement was reached on border.

Daniel Awet Akot, Deputy Speaker of the National Legislative Assembly called on youth to prepare for plan B and let plan A be implemented so that the government gives attention to the remaining issues.

”This is not the final agreement. It is just an arrangement to pave [a] way forward. So, let us prepare for plans and let this be implemented as it was agreed. I called this forum because we wanted members of parliament from Greater Bahr el Ghazal region to learn from this discussion so that when they go to parliament they shall have known to how to participate in the debate,” Akot explained.

Pio Tem Kuac Ngor, a former presidential advisor, also said his community was bothered by the inclusion of the 14 mile area in the agreement without seeking their consent but that they would not be the obstacle to what the leadership of the country thinks will bring peace and stability.

Ambrose Riiny Thiik, former president of the Supreme Court of South Sudan who chaired the meeting, said the inclusion of members of Northern Bahr el Ghazal in the negotiation would have helped the government in explain the reasoning for including Mile 14 as a contested areas.

“Should I say we have come to closing with consensus to endorse the agreement? Can we agree, asked Thiik. I think we should agree. We have to endorse it. It is endorsed,” he said as he closed the meeting, despite four people still with their hands raised waiting to speak.