Talks have stalled between Sudan’s rival northern and southern halves over the disputed oil-producing Abyei region and could re-ignite a conflict which claimed millions of lives, said the region’s leader.
Abyei has been the most contentious dispute between the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the ruling northern National Congress Party, both before and after a 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest running civil war.
The conflict was fought over religion, ethnicity, ideology and oil — must of which lies along the north-south border. it claimed 2 million lives, say aid agencies, mostly from hunger and disease and destabilised much of east Africa.
South Sudan will vote in a referendum on independence in January and Abyei should hold a simultaneous vote on whether to join the south.
But the partners cannot agree on the make up of the Abyei referendum commission, who will be able to vote or whether to hold long-delayed elections there.
“The issue of the Abyei referendum has come to a standstill,” Deng Arop, the head of Abyei’s administration, told reporters in Khartoum. “This has the potential to … cause a regional and international conflict.”
Arop, who is from the SPLM, also complained the nomadic Missiriya tribe, some of whom were used by the north as a militia to fight the SPLM, had begun to settle 75,000 people in the north of Abyei to change the demographic of the region and influence the vote.
Arop estimated there were some 100,000 original Abyei residents excluding the Missiriya.
“The aim is … at the very least to influence the referendum with large numbers or, if they are told they don’t have the right to vote, then they will derail the referendum,” Arop said of the Arab nomads.
CALL FOR “NEW APPROACH”
The ruling NCP says the Missiriya, a huge pro-unity nomadic tribe who graze their cattle in the south during the dry season, should vote in the Abyei referendum.
The SPLM says the tribe as a bloc should not be allowed to vote but that individuals with long-term residence in the region should be able to do so.
Arop called on the NCP to stop the settlements. “If the government is not supporting this then it should take action to stop it,” he said.
The former north-south foes, who formed a shaky national coalition government in 2005 which has fought over implementation of even the smallest portions of the peace accord, had referred Abyei’s border to The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration and both had agreed to abide by its ruling in 2009.
Arop said threats by the Missiriya had prevented the border being demarcated on the ground.
Northern presidential advisor Salah Gosh reopened the border debate in comments late on Saturday by saying a new approach was needed to resolve the dispute.
“The decision of the international court did not solve this problem and did not satisfy the needs of the two partners,” he said in comments carried on state news agency SUNA. “The two partners must find new solutions.”
Separately the long-time SPLM spokesman and Minister of Agriculture in south Sudan’s government Samson Kwaje died on Sunday of kidney failure in Kenya, SPLM officials said.
Kwaje was for many years the international face and voice of the rebels during their decades of struggle with the north.