Voice of America (Washington, DC)

7 October 2013

South Sudan: Govt Presses for Abyei Referendum

Photo: Frederic Noy/UNMIS
Sunset in the Abyei suburb of Molomol, where individual voluntary returnees from North Sudan are settling with the assistance of the United Nations.

South Sudan has called on the international community to ensure quick implementation of the agreement to hold a referendum to determine the final status of the disputed oil-rich border region of Abyei.

Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the referendum is the only democratic way for the people of Abyei to decide whether they want to remain in the north or return to the south.

The 2005 peace agreement between North and South Sudan called for a referendum for the people of Abyei to decide if they want to remain part of Sudan or South Sudan.

The African Union High Implementation Panel has set October for the referendum to be held. But, while Juba supports a referendum, Khartoum is opposed and favors a negotiated political settlement.

Benjamin said Juba received international backing during the 68th UN General Assembly for the referendum to take place as planned.

"During the annual General Assembly of heads of state in New York, both the foreign minister of Sudan and me as the foreign minister of South Sudan, were invited to brief the African Union Peace and Security Council. On our side, we briefed our commitment for the referendum to go ahead in Abyei. The majority of members of the African Union endorsed the legality of conducting a referendum in Abyei," he said.

Benjamin said both Sudan and South Sudan also briefed a UN team, including the five permanent member countries of the Security Council, as well as member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

"So, yes indeed, by all assessment, we got the support that the proposal of the African Union on referendum should be implemented. What they have not done is that they have not fixed the date of that referendum which is supposed take place in October," he said.

Benjamin said the international community must put pressure on Sudan to accept the proposal for a referendum.

"That's why, in my briefing to the African Union Peace and Security Council in New York, I told the members that they need to persuade Sudan to go along with the decision that has been agreed upon by us as partners as well as a comprised proposal by the African Union which is blessed by the UN Security Council [Resolution] 2046. So, what has not been done is for Sudan to agree to that and for a date to be fixed. And this is why we need pressure from all these countries to put on Sudan to go along," Benjamin said.

Benjamin said South Sudan is ready to make whatever contribution it can make towards financing the referendum. But, he says it is the responsibility of the entire international community.

"I think the commitment is not only the commitment of the Republic of South Sudan. We will make our own little contribution, according to our own ability. But, it is the commitment of the international community, as a whole, the African Union and the United Nations system," Benjamin said.

Abyei is inhabited by the Misseriya tribe of Arab origin supported by the north and the Ngok Dinka tribe, which enjoys support in South Sudan.

The Khartoum government is opposed to the idea of a referendum and favors a negotiated political settlement.

Benjamin said the referendum is the only democratic solution and that the people of Abyei are ready for it.

"You remember Abyei in 1905 was a part of South Sudan, and then it was transferred for administrative reasons into the northern part of the Sudan. Now, with the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] protocol on Abyei, we equally agreed that the people of Abyei shall have a referendum to choose whether they remain in the north or to come back to where they were taken from in the beginning. So, yes, the referendum issue is a part of the political settlement of the whole final settlement of Abyei," he said.

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