Thousands of Arab nomads have protested against a ruling on the borders of a Sudan oil district they say robs them of pasture, in the first concrete sign of dissent over the judgment.
The demonstrations by Misseriya tribesmen came less than a week after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague defined the borders of the Abyei area in a judgment hailed as a resolution to a bitter territorial dispute.
Misseriya leaders told Reuters yesterday up to 3000 nomads packed the remote central Sudan town of el-Muglad earlier this week, accusing the government of accepting the loss of their pastures in exchange for access to oil fields.
Any sign of growing Misseriya opposition will be seen as a disturbing development for Sudan’s northern Khartoum elite which has long relied on parts of the tribe for support in country’s volatile, oil-producing heartlands.
Analysts have also warned any escalating dispute over Abyei could draw Sudan back into civil war, an outcome that would have a disastrous impact on the country, its oil industry and the surrounding region.
No one was available for comment from Sudan’s government.
Sudan’s Muslim north and its mostly Christian south have argued and fought for decades over Abyei.
Both sides agreed to refer the sensitive issues of Abyei’s borders and ownership to the Hague court last year, after repeated attempts to settle the argument failed.
In earlier arguments, the northern government and the Misseriya had a common position that north Sudan controlled a central area of pastureland and oilfields.
The Misseriya, who have a number of permanent settlements in north Sudan, have driven their cattle for many years south through the contested area that is also settled by the Ngok Dinka tribe, which has links to southern Sudan.
The Hague court produced new maps that placed large parts of the pasture inside Abyei, while ceding most of the oilfields, including the key Heglig site, to the north.
Abyei is currently defined as a “special administrative” area with a joint north-south administration. But its population has been promised a referendum in January 2011 on whether to join north or south Sudan.
Both northern and southern leaders promised to accept The Hague ruling last week and said it also had the backing of Misseriya and Dinka people on the ground.
But Misseriya leaders said their position had been misrepresented.
”The government has made a deal. It had sold the Misseriya for Heglig, an oilfield which is already exhausted,” said Sadig Babo Nimir, a leading member of the Misseriya tribe who is also an official in Sudan’s opposition Umma party.
Nimir, who is based in Khartoum, said the Misseriya now planned to bypass Sudanese authorities and hold direct negotiations with the Ngok Dinka to assure their land rights.
“We are going to keep calm. We are not going back to war. We will go straight to the Dinka and work out the ways and means on how to live together.”
Nimir said a passage in The Hague ruling guaranteeing Misseriya grazing rights was too weak as it only promised “secondary rights” that might involve grazing fees.
El-Muglad teacher Al-Fadal Yagoub told Reuters by phone 3000 Misseriya tribesmen came in from surrounding towns for the rally earlier this week.
“This verdict from the Hague court is unfair. We need our rights,” added El-Muglad official Ahmed Azouza.
Pic: South of Sudan