21 August 2017

Ethiopia Hosts Fresh Talks on Abyei Demarcation

After a 12-year delay in resolving the Abyei border dispute between South Sudan and Sudan, the African Union is now putting pressure on Juba and Khartoum to restart the demarcation talks.

The AU is concerned that the six-month ultimatum given to the two countries by the United Nations in January to resolve the matter has expired without any results.

The organisation has now invited teams from the two countries to convene in Addis Ababa to resume the talks from August 18.

A Joint Abyei Commission failed, and Juba got distracted by the civil war that began in December 2013.

South Sudan deputy ambassador to Kenya Jimmy Deng told The EastAfrican that Juba is worried that should leadership change in Khartoum, it will be difficult to solve the Abyei issue as provided for in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

"We are lucky that the two governments are the same ones that signed the Abyei Protocol and they are the ones who can solve it. The call by AU is welcome and we are preparing to resume the talks," said Mr Deng.

He said the initiative by the AU and the UN has injected fresh impetus into the issue of Abyei, and that the two governments must now find a solution and bring the issue to a close.

According to the Abyei Protocol in the CPA that was signed by President Omar al-Bashir and the late Dr John Garang in Nairobi, Abyei was supposed to have a referendum together with the south in 2011 to decide whether they belonged to Sudan or South Sudan.

However, the two countries are yet to agree on who has the right to participate in the referendum between the indigenous Ngok Dinka and the nomadic Misseriya.

Implementation mechanisms

The resumed talks are meant to set up mechanisms for the implementation of the Addis Ababa Agreement of June 2011, in which the two countries agreed to form the Abyei Area Administration and establish the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee.

Currently, Sudan is the sole administrator in Abyei as the two countries continue to claim the region.

The dispute has led to intervention by the UN, and has put pressure on the AU -- which also has a programme in place requiring member states to delineate and demarcate their borders by the end of this year.

In May, the Security Council reduced the UN Interim Force for Abyei, which comprises of Ethiopian troops, from 5,326 to 4,791, and warned the two countries to solve the dispute in six months or have all the troops withdrawn this November.

In October 2013, the Ngok Dinka unilaterally decided to hold their own referendum in which more than 90 per cent of them voted to go to South Sudan.

However, the referendum was rejected by Khartoum, Juba and the AU.

South Sudan maintains that Abyei belongs to the country because the main population of Ngok Dinka share their lineage with the people in the south.

However, Sudan, having lost 75 per cent of their oil wells when the south seceded in 2011, is keen to retain Abyei for the resources.

The Ngok Dinka have since refused to participate in the formation of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee. Currently the two communities are running two committees -- one for the Misseriya another for the Ngok Dinka.

Ethiopia

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