Abyei — Community leaders from the contested border region of Abyei said on Saturday that they have completed preparations aiming at marking the the first year of South Sudan's independence.
Abyei's referendum to decide whether in would join South Sudan and separate from Sudan, has been indefinitely put on hold as the two sides cannot agree who should be allowed to vote.
The status of the oil-rich fertile area is one of the top post-partition items under discussion between the two-sides in Addis Ababa.
Kuol Deng Kuol, paramount chief of the Nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdom told visiting journalists on Saturday that it was not the first time for the people of Abyei to celebrate independence of South Sudan.
"Our people celebrated independence of South Sudan even when they were under trees"; Chief Kuol said referring to when Sudanese troops took over the area in May 2011, resulting in 100,000 people fleeing the area.
The Dinka Ngok are aligned to South Sudan and would have been expected to vote to become part of South Sudan, should the January 2011 vote gone ahead.
Khartoum argues that the members of the Misseriya, a nomadic Arab cattle herding group, who enter the region for much of the year should also be allowed to vote.
Kuol said that as people from Abyei participated in the rebel movements that led to South Sudan's independence the people of Abyei would had reason celebrate the anniversary on July 9.
"They will celebrate it this year and will continue to celebrate it in the future because it is a celebration of the independence brought by the struggle of all the oppressed and marginalised communities", he explained.
He appealed international community to intervene to end seven years deadlock over the status of his native region. As part of the 2005 peace deal Abyei was granted its own protocol. After the findings of a border committee were rejected by Khartoum the issues was referred to International Court of Arbitration in the Hague.
The final border has not been drawn and many officials in South Sudan have called for final status of the region, as well as other border disputes, to be subjected to international arbitration.
Sudan has largely rejected this, although Khartoum's Ambassador to the UK has said he is willing to go for arbitration if certain conditions are met.
Dispute over the status of the area has led to armed confrontation of the security forces loyal to the two parties. Several attempts by the international community to resolve dispute over the area since 2005 have not made any tangle progress.
Despite the uncertain situation the Ngok Dinka of Abyei continue to identify themselves as members of the South Sudan.
Arop Kuol, a chief representing Dhil, a one of the leading sections of the Nine Ngok Dinka chiefdom under paramount Chief Kuol Deng Kuol, argued that the Ngok people are South Sudanese by "all definitions and associations".
The Dinka ethnic group is the largest in South Sudan.
"Our names tell the world where we come. Dinka community is found only in the South and only in the same place where you can find our roots. The government of Sudan is only refusing to release Abyei because of oil and its land. It is not because of any connection", he said.
He wondered why the Sudanese forces have always been quick to destroy the area if they have any legitimate claim. Unlike last year, celebrations for this year's independence would see less attendance from signatories.
Due to economic situation in the country, the South Sudanese government announced on Saturday that funds would only be made available to support independence celebrations in the country's capital Juba.
South Sudan's ten states and lower level authorities are however encouraged to organise celebrations. Kuol said the Abyei traditional leaders have not received any information of whether low level authorities would be assisted by Juba. They said they are prepared to celebrate with or without assistance.
South Sudan's independence "means a lot to our people" Arop Kuol said.
"It means freedom to manage our affairs without seeking approval from Khartoum. This is a big achievement which our people must celebrate. Our people now do not go to Khartoum anymore."
General Kuol Monyluak, the acting Abyei Chief Administrator said his administration would facilitate the organisation of local celebrations as well as provision of security to the people who would turn out to the mark the day.
"We have already discussed the issue of security with United Nations Interim Security Forces for Abyei and they have agreed to provide adequate security. So we encourage our people to come out and celebrate without fear. Security will be provided to them during celebrations", General Monyluak said explaining his own children have started preparing for celebration.
"Everybody is happy to take part in the celebration. My own children tell me they are preparing for independence celebrations. This show the importance of the event", he said.