November 24, 2014 (JUBA) – Community leaders from the oil-contested region of Abyei say they are determined to push ahead with a campaign seeking regional and international recognition of the October 2013 referendum result.
Both the Sudanese and South Sudanese governments refused to recognise the ballot, in which Ngok Dinka residents voted overwhelmingly to join South Sudan.
Community leaders say the lack of official recognition remained an ongoing source of suffering for the people of Abyei.
“The consequences of the dispute over the status of the area are hurting so much, even when our people have made their choice known to the whole world,” paramount chief Bulabek Deng Kuol told Sudan Tribune on Monday.
“Actually our people [are] feeling abandoned by the very international community which stood by their side in Naivasha, Kenya in 2005, and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2012,” he added, referring to previous agreements on the area.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan following a 2005 peace deal that paved the way for a referendum on self-determination in 2011.
Although the deal ended more than two decades of civil war, a number of contentious post-secession issues, including Abyei, which is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, have remained unresolved and have continued to be a source of tensions between the two countries.
An October 2013 referendum proposed by the African Union (AU) to decide the fate of Abyei never took place after Arab nomads from the Misseriya tribe, who periodically enter the region to graze their cattle, rejected their exclusion from the ballot on the basis they were not permanent residents of the area.
Frustrated at the lack of progress, the Ngok Dinka held an unofficial referendum, opting to join South Sudan.
Kuol stressed that the only solution to the long-running dispute is to recognise the outcome of the community referendum.
“For our people to live in peace and coexist with [the] Misseriya, they must accept the referendum result as it is the choice of the people of Abyei to where they want to go and recognise that the area of Abyei, as it was defined by the 2009 permanent court of arbitration at The Hague, is an area of the nine Ngok Dinka [kingdoms] and we will extend open arms to their (the Misseriya) cows to access water and pastures without restrictions,” he said.
“We also call on the region, especially the African Union and the international community, the United States of America and the United Nations to accept the result,” he added.
Meanwhile, Justice Deng Biong Mijak, a senior government official responsible for the file of the Abyei area, said his team had recently concluded a three-day visit to Zimbabwe, where he delivered a special message to the government there from the South Sudanese people on the status of the area.
“Our South Sudan delegation on [the] Abyei file headed by me and membership of Ambassador Chol Deng Alak had concluded an official visit to the Republic of Zimbabwe last week.
According to Mijak, the delegation delivered a letter from South Sudan’s foreign affairs minster, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, to his Zimbabwean counterpart, Simbarashe S.Mumbengegwi, at a meeting earlier this month.
He said the delegation was joined on arrival by South Sudan’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Gabriel Gai Riak, who also accompanied the group during the meeting with the Zimbabwean government and other relevant groups and institutions.
“The delegation further explained the objectives of their mission and presented important documents on Abyei. Zimbabwe is targeted being a member [of the] AU and current chair of SADC,” said Mijak.
The delegation remained in Zimbabwe from 11 to 14 November.