SUDAN: Abyei still fragile as Darfur conflict spills into Kordofan

JUBA, 7 August 2009 (IRIN) – Two weeks after a tribunal in The Hague redefined the borders of Sudan’s Abyei region, considerably reducing its size from a previous panel decision in 2005, concern is growing as both sides evaluate the ruling.

Both Southern Sudan and the central government – former enemies in a 22-year civil war – accepted the new boundaries as legal and binding.

But the 22 July decision has provoked claims from both sides over resources, including oil fields. It has highlighted the work still needed to delimit the rest of the estimated 2,000km-long border.

For example, the lucrative Heglig and Bamboo oil fields were ruled outside the Abyei area – and inside the Khartoum-administrated Southern Kordofan state. But the south has said these lie across the border in its Unity state – and called on the outstanding delimitation of the north-south border to include them.

The Darfur conflict has occasionally spilled into former north-south conflict area of Southern Kordofan (which includes the Nuba Mountains). Fighting in the region was reported on 3 August between a major rebel group in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the central government army.

Pagan Amum, Secretary-General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) blamed Khartoum’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) for seeking to scupper a referendum on independence for the south due in 2011.

“The NCP has delayed the demarcation of the north-south border, which should have been completed early in the interim period,” Amum said in a 29 July statement, referring to a six-year transition period set under the 2005 peace deal.

Failure to implement the key provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) could lead to war if the two parties do not cooperate, he warned.

“Whether Sudan will become one peaceful and free country or separate into two countries peacefully co-existing shall be decided in large degree by how we, the two parties – SPLM and NCP – implement the CPA,” he added.

“Attempts to renege from the CPA shall lead to a catastrophic disaster of war again.”

Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
Sudanese traders in the market of Abyei in this photo taken on 21 July

Claims on Abyei

Abyei town, which was virtually destroyed in fighting between Northern and Southern forces in May 2008, forcing some 50,000 to flee, has been calm since the ruling.

The number of peacekeepers from the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in the Abyei area has almost doubled since last year’s clashes.

The region should remain jointly administered by both sides, and vote in 2011 on whether it will join southern Sudan or remain part of the larger Sudan.

But many Southerners are already laying claim to Abyei.

“This land is ours, because it is the land of the Dinka people, and they are of the south,” said John Biong, a resident of Juba, who comes from Abyei. “Abyei is the south.”

Southern president Salva Kiir has invited leaders from Abyei’s residents – the Ngok Dinka community viewed as loyal to the south, and the Misseriya Arab pastoralists, traditional supporters of the north – to talks over the future of the region.

But deep concerns remain. US Special Envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, called Abyei a “highly sensitive and emotional issue”, warning that it remained a threat to the CPA.

“Tensions in Abyei remain high and the international community must continue to be vigilant,” he warned on 30 July.

“As we have seen before in that area, tensions between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya can quickly erupt into violence, resulting in a conflict that could bring the SPLM and NCP into direct confrontation and threaten to derail the CPA,” he said.


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