3 March 2013

Sudan: Prospects for Peace in Abyei Remain 'Bleak', Says Group

Juba — Prospects for peaceful resolution of the dispute in Abyei remain "bleak" with international actors failing to bring the two conflicting parties to a political solution, a Geneva-based research group has said.

Small Arms Survey, in its latest report on the crisis in the disputed oil-producing region, detail how Khartoum rejected an African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) proposal to resolve the stalemate in Abyei, which South Sudan willingly endorsed.

Abyei was scheduled to have a referendum to determine whether it would rejoin South Sudan, or remain in Sudan, but that did not take place due to disagreements over who was eligible to vote. Sudan insisted the Messiriya seasonal migrants who graze

their cattle in Abyei during the dry season must participate, but South Sudan says only the Ngok Dinka people be allowed.

The AUHP, which is currently mediating in negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, made a proposal on 21 September for Abyei's referendum to finally be held in October 2013. The proposal excludes migrants from voting.

"Negotiations since then have faltered, despite international pressure, with the most recent meetings in January between the two countries ending in a commitment to make future discussions of Abyei's political future conditional on the creation of a local administration in Abyei and a police force," partly says the March report.

ADMINSTRATIVE WOES

The two countries, according to the report, have also failed to agree on the formation of a joint administration in the area, with both parties disagreeing on the composition of the structure to be established.

At a recent meeting of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, representatives from the two sides failed to reach a compromise, after Sudan demanded 50% of representation on the Abyei Area Council, 10% more than its previous share.

This demand, the report noted, led to South Sudan suspending the nomination process for executive positions in the administration, while council membership is negotiated at upcoming meetings in Addis Ababa.

Luka Biong Deng, South Sudan's co-chair on AJOC, earlier told Sudan Tribune that the Sudanese government was not committed to the peaceful resolution of the status of the disputed region, despite South Sudan's willingness.

Since May 2011, Abyei has been devoid of a functional administration after Sudanese forces took control of the area, displacing nearly 105,000 people out of their homes. Some 4,000 Ethiopian-backed United Nations peacekeeping, forces tasked with ensuring the security of Abyei, have now deployed in the area.

In recent weeks, however, tension seems imminent in the region, with South Sudan accusing neighbouring Sudan of building up its troops along the borders regions, including in Abyei.

Philip Aguer, the spokesperson of South Sudan army (SPLA), in a televised statement on state-owned South Sudan TV on Friday, said the neighbouring country has mobilised its forces and allied militias of Rezeigat and Mujahideen in a bid to reoccupy Abyei and invade South Sudan for the last one week.

He further added that Khartoum has also mobilised elements of South Sudanese who are spearheading the reoccupation of Abyei and invasion of South Sudan under the command of Lt. Col. Thomas Bior Malual and Maj. William Deng Dau, respectively.

The SPLA official accused Khartoum of reneging on the security arrangements for Abyei by reoccupying the area, as well as violating the September 27, 2012 agreement signed between the two Presidents, Salva Kiir and Omer el Bashir, in Addis Ababa, which provided for temporary security arrangements between the two countries.

Also according to the temporary security arrangement per the agreement between the two presidents, each army was to redeploy by 10km and leave a buffer zone, which would be manned by a neutral force.

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