Addis Ababa — The African Union (AU) has condemned Saturday's attack in Sudan's disputed Abyei region, in which the paramount chief of the Ngok Dinka, Kuol Deng Kuol, and a UN peacekeeper were killed.
AU chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said she had been shocked to learn of the attack on the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), which occurred on the same day as a meeting held between members of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC).
Kuol and an Ethiopian peacekeeper were shot dead in an ambush by members of the rival nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe, while they were travelling in a UNISFA convoy on their way back to Abyei town from a visit to an area further north. Two other peacekeepers were also seriously wounded.
"The chairperson condemns, in the strongest possible terms, this heinous crime, which threatens the stability of Abyei, as well as the progress recently achieved by Sudan and South Sudan in addressing their common security and socio-economic challenges", the AU said in a statement on Sunday.
Dlamini-Zuma has urged Sudanese government to ensure that those responsible for the attack are brought to justice. She also called on the leadership of both Sudans to exercise restraint and to ensure that the current situation does not spiral out of control.
The chairperson reiterated the AU's support for decisions adopted by AJOC, including calls for Abyei to be a 'weapons-free area', as per an agreement on temporary arrangements for the administration and security of the area, signed by Sudan and South Sudan in June 2011.
"She calls on the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to take all steps required to assist UNISFA to exercise its mandate in Abyei, and in particular calls on the two governments not to arm their citizens", the statement adds.
The AU chairperson also expressed her condolences on behalf of the commission to the Ngok Dinka community, as well as to the family of the Ethiopian peacekeeper killed in the attack.
The US embassy in Khartoum also issued a statement condemning the attacks, describing Kuol's death as a major loss for the Ngok Dinka people.
"We express our profound sadness at their loss of life ... We mourn his death and extend our deep condolences to his family and the Ngok Dinka people", the statement said.
"The UNISFA peacekeeper was killed in the line of duty - protecting others in the service of peace. We likewise mourn his loss and express our deep condolences to his family, the people of Ethiopia and the United Nations" it adds.
The US has also urged the parties to the conflict in Abyei to work with the AJOC to conduct a transparent and effective investigation into the incident.
The divergent positions of Khartoum and Juba over the participation of the Misseriya nomads in a referendum expected to be held in October have hampered the organisation of the vote, which was originally scheduled to take place in January 2011.
Although large numbers of Misseriya have traditionally used the territory to graze and water their cattle at different times of the year, South Sudan maintains that only those permanently residing in the area should be allowed to vote.
In a bid to end the deadlock between the two countries, the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) endorsed a proposal excluding the Misseriya from voting.
The Dinka Ngok comprise the majority of Abyei's permanent residents and would be expected to vote for Abyei to become part of South Sudan.