Juba — The community of the contested oil-producing region of Abyei has welcomed a pledge by the government of Finland to provide diplomatic and humanitarian assistance.
Justice Deng Biong, a government official responsible for the area's file, told Sudan Tribune on Thursday the Abyei issue was discussed at an international donor conference for South Sudan in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, on Tuesday.
Biong said he gave a presentation at the conference on diplomatic and humanitarian assistance needed in the region, also meeting with a number of key donors, including the Finnish minister for international development, Pekka Haavisto.
who welcomed a visit by an Abyei delegation to Helsinki in the near future to discuss the issue further", Biong told Sudan Tribune on Thursday.
He said Haavisto had extended a personal invitation to Abyei officials for an official visit to Helsinki to hold further discussions on what role Finland can play to expedite a peaceful resolution to the conflict, as well as provide humanitarian assistances and possible funds for development projects in the area.
"There were two important messages. The Finland government had pledged to provide humanitarian assistances to our people and to development projects in the area", he said in an interview from Nairobi.
Biong warned the area is facing the possibility of a catastrophic situation in terms of food security, stressing that the current conflict in South Sudan had forced some people in adjacent communities to move into the area, placing further strain on already fragile resources.
"The current situation in South Sudan had compelled some people to move to the area and this has added another pressure on the local resources," he said.
"The report we are now receiving from the area is that people are surviving on the leaves and roots of the wild fruits. They are eating lily stems and seeds. Some were trying to weave nets to fish," he added.
Biong says children in particular are living in a "desperate state".
"They are in the bush trying to make the living on anything [they can]," he added.
The Oslo donor conference was organised by the Norwegian government to help avert a possible famine in the country, which has been embroiled in a devastating conflict since mid-December last year after political tensions led to an armed struggle between government loyalists and rebel forces.
The conference was attended by delegates from 41 donor nations, with 22 pledging more than $600 million in humanitarian assistance, including Finland with a $5.4 million contribution.
Abyei is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan and remains one of the most sensitive issues left unresolved after the signing of a 2005 peace deal ended more than two decades of civil war and paved the way for Southern independence in 2011.
The area is home to the Ngok Dinka tribe, who reside permanently in the area and are closely connected to South Sudan, as well as members of the nomadic Arab Misseriya, who enter periodically to graze their cattle and have close ties with Khartoum.
A proposed referendum to decide the fate of Abyei was rejected by Sudan amid disagreements over who was eligible to participate.
However, the Ngok Dinka went ahead with a unilateral referendum last October, voting overwhelmingly in favour of joining South Sudan. Neither Khartoum nor Juba has recognised the results.