Monday, 19 September 2011

Abyei remains contested, says South Sudan

A senior official from South Sudan has said that the oil-rich border region of Abyei will remain disputed, until the governments of Sudan and South Sudan agree on a deal which will protect the rights of its residents.

Speaking on 17th September, Luka Biong Deng, a co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (set up to monitor the implementation of agreements there), said that Abyei would retain a special status until a legal and binding decision is made.

Biong said that the current agreement governing the administration of Abyei, which was signed in June, is not a permanent mandate. Abyei is nominally controlled by both states under UN supervision, since a referendum to decide its fate – alongside the vote which led to South Sudan's independence – was not held due to disputes between Juba and Khartoum.

Biong asserted, however, that the international community continues to work under the impression that Abyei belongs to north Sudan, and is therefore unable to provide the necessary support and assistance to it. At present, both Sudan and South Sudan have forces stationed in Abyei; there is also a UN peacekeeping force, composed of Ethiopian troops. Both sides are due to withdraw their forces by the end of September.

Troop withdrawal, said Biong, is a key first step towards a plebiscite. With the UN in charge, both governments will continue to administer it "until the final status of the area can be determined in a manner that respects the will of the residents of Abyei".

Biong's statement is intended to emphasise that the current arrangement, with both states jointly administering the region, is not permanent. It reflects a confidence that Abyei's residents, which have tended to support the south and have a range of grievances against the government in Khartoum, will agree to join South Sudan in any referendum and thereby handing control of the region's oil wealth to Juba.

Any flare-up in fighting would provide a good excuse for the north's government to maintain forces in the region and put off a referendum. Ensuring a smooth, demilitarised transition is therefore critical for the South Sudanese government.

Sources: Sudan Tribune, BBC

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

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