Abyei — The United States' Ambassador to South Sudan, Susan Page, visited Abyei, a key fertile oil-producing area that is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan on Tuesday.
The status of the area is one of the main issues still to be resolved after South Sudan seceded from Sudan last year. Page is visiting the area to acquaint herself with both security and humanitarian in the area.
After Sudanese troops took control of the area in May 2011, just two months before South Sudan's independence, over 100,000 people were displaced. Now that returnees are beginning to return.
Community leaders and the returning displaced persons took the opportunity of Page's visit to urge the international community to provide immediate assistance to help rebuild their lives.
Traditional leaders in the area expressed disappointment about what they claimed was the failure of the United Nations and the African Union to exercise pressure on Khartoum to implement UNSC Resolution No 2046 and Resolution 1990, which demanding complete withdrawal of all Sudanese and South Sudanese forces from the area.
Despite South Sudan's independence last year, the status of the fertile oil-producing region remains unresolved. A referendum on the issue was due to take place in January 2011 but the two sides could not agree on who was allowed to vote.
South Sudan's governing Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which commands support of the indigenous Ngok Dinka, limits the definition of those resident in Abyei to members of the nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdoms.
In the Abyei protocol of the 2005 peace deal that ended decades of conflict the two sides agreed that members of the nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdoms and other Sudanese who were "resident" in Abyei were allowed to vote.
The leadership of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) interprets this as allowing the Missiriya tribe - an Arab nomadic group some of whom enter the area with their cattle looking for water pasture land for their animals for part of the year - to also be allowed to vote.
The nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdoms were transferred to Kordofan province, now part of north Sudan, in 1905 during British rule. The status of Abyei is one of the many issues being discussed between the two sides in Addis Ababa.
Luka Biong Deng, a Chief Representative of South Sudan's president Salva Kiir Mayardit in the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, commended Page's visit and hoped it would allow her to get first hand information on the situation.
Mathiang Mijak, a teacher who returned to the area one week before the town was taken over by the Sudanese army in May 2011 told Sudan Tribune that he wondered why his people have been subjected to repeated displacement and subsequent destruction each time the two parties fail to agree on the status of the area.
"We, the Ngok Dinka people; do not feel that that someday, Khartoum may cooperate and agree to accept a final settlement of the status of our area through peaceful dialogue", said Mijak.
"All we see is destruction while international efforts being exerted appear to be bearing negligible impact on the Sudanese relations with the west. I see these efforts as just waste of time, energies and resources. I say so because how many agreements have been signed with Khartoum and not implemented.", asked Mijak.
He argued that the presence of the Sudanese troops in some parts of the area is negatively contributing to the voluntary return of the displaced.
Chief asks for assistance
Paramount Chief Kuol Deng Kuol, said in an interview with Sudan Tribune that he stressed the need for international community, particularly the government of United States of America and the Security Council of the United Nations and her allies, to draw up "clear action plans" to resolve the dispute over the area.
"We, the people of Abyei appreciate the role played by the United States government in bringing peace during the North-South [Sudan] conflict in which our people participated. This support should not stop. It needs to be continued to help our people get complete freedom to live in peace so that we can rebuild our lives and way of living", said Kuol.
He said the people of Abyei have seen no peace and stability despite the 2005 peace deal.
"As you can see this is not the way it was before it was invaded in 2011. It was a complete town. There were buildings, there were institutions, there were schools, and there were health centers but all these have been destroyed. Nothing is left as you can see. The Sudanese armed forces and allied militia groups have taken everything," Kuol told the visiting US ambassador.
He said that he wondered why forces loyal to the Khartoum government destroyed everything in Abyei if they have legitimate claim on the area.
"They are like raiders. They do not come with intention to stay because they know the area does not belong to them. This is why they take away everything they can carry and destroy what they cannot take", he explained appealing for US support to help rebuild the area.
Destruction of Abyei town
Sudan Tribune toured the town and witnessed that all the mud built and grass thatched houses had been razed to the ground. Returnees say they are living in fear that the Sudanese military and its aligned forces may attack the town again as it has done twice since 2005.
Among the few buildings left standing are the national security and police service offices. All corrugated iron houses, including the Catholic Church, have had their roofs looted leaving the walls open to direct heat and rain.
The Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief Kuol Deng Kuol, explained that those who have managed to return to their original villages north of Kiir River are in serious need of food, shelters, medicine and water as all the hand pumps and other water points had been totally destroyed.
He commended the Ethiopian peacekeeping forces in the area, who are there under a UN Chapter VII mandate, for providing adequate security and having effectively deployed their forces all over the Abyei Area.