Juba — Tension over the future of Abyei, a flashpoint region roughly the size of Lebanon on Sudan's north-south border, erupted into armed violence and street demonstrations this week.
On 5 July, gunmen mounted an attack near the village of Tajalei, about 30km northeast of Abyei town, killing five people, a police officer and four civilians.
Abyei Chief Administrator Deng Arop Kuol, from the Ngok Dinka community whose traditional chiefdoms make up the region, blamed Misseriya leaders and accused them of enjoying the support of Khartoum.
"These attacks are being organized in order to re-settle the Misseriya in Abyei in the lands of Ngok Dinka," he said by telephone.
Many of the pastoralist Misseriya, who enjoy grazing rights within Abyei, sided with the government during Sudan's most recent (1983-2005) civil war, while the Ngok Dinka mainly supported the southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
Deng Arop Kuol also accused the Misseriya of trying to stall key components of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord: demarcation of Abyei's border and registration for a referendum that will determine whether Abyei joins Southern Sudan - likely to vote for secession after its own referendum in January 2011 - or retains its semi-autonomous status in the north.
Also on 5 July, thousands of Abyei town residents took to the streets to call for border demarcation and protest the non-formation of the Abyei Referendum Commission. A few days earlier, months behind schedule, the similar commission for Southern Sudan was formed.
The crowd also petitioned for local elections to be held as soon as possible, for the withdrawal of Sudanese Armed Forces and allied militias within Abyei, and for compensation to be paid to victims of May 2008 clashes which killed 89 and displaced 90,000 people.
According to a petition from civil society groups, these measures would "ensure stability and security and prevent any future attacks on innocent civilians like the recent barbarians' attacks on villagers in Marial Achak and Maker carried out by NCP [National Congress Party, in power in Khartoum] ally militias."
Some in Abyei feel the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the rebels' political wing, now in power in the south, has neglected their interests.
On 6 July Arop Madut Arop, a member of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly from Abyei, interrupted a press conference given by a southern minister.
"The two [referendum] commissions were supposed to be treated together, in the sense that in the future also the referendums will be conducted also simultaneously. What happened?" demanded Arop. "Why are the two referendums being treated separately?"
"I'm appealing to the international community to come in immediately to the rescue, to put pressure on the NCP government to stop this encroachment," Arop told the media present, referring to the allegations of Misseriya re-settlement inside Abyei.
"If it is not brought to an end, of course it will drag [in other] people because the Abyei people are not alone. They may take up arms. Their people in the SPLM, SPLA may defect and go and join them. And suddenly, the northern army will also come in, and what will happen is that in a short time, within a few days, Sudan is back to war," he warned.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]