9 September 2012

South Sudan: Army Calls for Keeping 'Vigilant' Eyes On Abyei

Juba — High ranking South Sudanese military figures including the SPLA chief of staff have urged the army to closely keep "vigilant eyes" on the oil contested border region of Abyei, stressing that the area is "completely" part of the world's youngest nation by "all definitions".

The key officers wondered why the international community, particularly United Nations has not been able to set a "clear red line" for military activities allegedly conducted in the area by the rival government of neighbouring Sudan with which the new nation contests ownership.

Mboto Mamur Mate, Deputy Chief of General Staff responsible for Moral Orientation and Mobilisation, while addressing a military parade broadcast by South Sudan Television on Friday, argued that Abyei was completely part of the new nation and that the army "must keep a vigilant eye" on the area" by all means at any cost in compliance of the constitutional requirement of the army to defend and protect territorial integrity of the country".

Mate was speaking at the General Headquarters of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) located on the northern outskirts of Juba town, during a military function attended by the Chief of General Staff James Hoth Mai, a day after returning to the country from a foreign visit to Australia, where his family members reside.

He was covering Mai's desk while away as acting Chief of General Staff until Thursday while he was away. The latter was received at Juba International Airport by a line of senior military officers including his deputy Mate.

Military sources say the event was organised purposely to legalise handing over of the office to the returning general though it coincided with the completion of a military training undertaken by Special Forces, known as commandos, most of whom took part in the April fight over Panthou as called by the South and Heglig by Sudan.

The SPLA pulled out of the area after considerable international pressure, however the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) maintain that they forced the South Sudanese Army to retreat.

Mate said the international community had failed to convince or take strong measures against Sudanese government he described as "invading government" of resource rich areas belonging to his country.

The general's remarks manifested a growing impatience and frustrations of the country's leadership with her friends and main allies including the United States as well as other countries that have been pressing for allowing diplomacy more time to work and hold off war.

"I believe the truth must be stated: The international community is not placing a clear red line for Sudan. Sudan does not see international resolve to take more actions", Mate said.

"Unless Sudan sees this clear red line and resolve it will not stop behaving the way it is today. It has violated Resolution 2046 of the Security Council of the United Nations that allows no armed groups to be present in Abyei and the international community is quiet. They only condemn our reactions and see nothing wrong being done by Khartoum. Citizens of Abyei are still living in fear. They are terrified and traumatised to return to their areas still being occupied"; Mate explained in a lengthy speech which was greeted with overwhelming applauds by the viewers and attending military officers.

Sudan and South Sudan agreed in June 2011 to deploy an Ethiopian forces in the disputed region. Following a decision by the UN Security Council on 2 May 2012, the two countries withdrew their troops from the area. However Khartoum refused to pull out a small force of 120 soldiers from Difra, in north Abyei, pretexting that rebels groups active in South Kordofan represent a threat to the oil installations there.

The army general said the dispute over Abyei was not an issue exclusively limited to the people of the disputed region but that it was an issue which concerns South Sudanese citizens from all walks of life, as the area was geographically located within the territory of the newest nation.

"If we keep quiet and regard it as an issue which concerns the people of Abyei, then what shall we say about the Kuku in Kajokeji, what shall we say about people of Kapoeta in Eastern Equatoria? Will it work", Mate asked in Dinka language generating overwhelming applause.

Abyei was transferred from South Sudan to Sudan for administrative purposes by the British over one hundred years ago. As part of the peace deal that led to South Sudan's independence last year, Abyei was supposed to hold its own plebiscite to decide whether it should be transferred into the new nation.

However, disputes over voter eligibility and forming the referendum commission have delayed the process, which was supposed to have taken place in January 2011.

James Hoth Mai, in his turn said it was time the country takes the issue of peace and reconciliation more seriously so that internal divisions are never used against the nation.

He called on the army to remain "watchful" of every single step Sudanese government forces take across the border including Abyei and to protect territorial rights of the new nation.

The US administration which, despite providing vital diplomatic and economic support towards South Sudan's independence diplomatically, has more recently had a frosty relationship with the leadership of the new country.

On Saturday, an influential military officer who is one of President Salva Kiir's confidants told Sudan Tribune at New York Hotel in Juba that "the rhetoric of the U.S. president is too vague, very agitating" and that the leadership of his country was not taking Obama's words seriously.

"The Obama administration has done us no justice at all. It has always failed to listen to us and act on our genuine complaints although we have never refused listening to them. They do not give us chance to explain our selves instead they are quick to view us as an aggressor, especially in the issue of Panthou", the military officer explained.

The American Administration, besides its position over April war which was justified by the need to avoid an all-out war with Sudan, also pressed Juba to stop its support to the Sudanese rebels.

Some officials in Washington complain that the permanent support to Juba led to close the door with Khartoum and prevents the US. Administration from facilitating the resolution of outstanding issues.

Obama also was frustrated by behaviour of South Sudanese president who denied him his support to the Sudanese rebel groups or his military action in Heglig.

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