Home | News    Thursday 28 October 2010

SPLM deny calling for Abyei to be annexed without referendum

October 27, 2010 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s ruling party has issued conflicting statements on whether it wants the region of Abyei to be annexed to the south through a political settlement and Presidential decree if a referendum on the region’s future does not go ahead in January as scheduled.

Conflicting SPLM reports about calls by SPLM figures for the NCP to admit that Abyei belong to South Sudan without referendum. A displaced woman waits food distribution in May 2008 (Reuters)

The Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Pagan Amum, said Tuesday that the issue was being held “hostage” by Sudan’s ruling party but that they were willing to pay a “ransom” for the region to be returned to south Sudan.

This appeared to be the party’s new position after a senior minister in the coalition government told Reuters on Wednesday that the US proposal had been “agreed” by the SPLM in an attempt to stop the dispute over the region triggering a return to war.

However on Wednesday evening the SPLM Secretary for Information and Communications in the Southern Sector, Bol Makueng went on southern television to say that Amum had been misquoted.

He said Pagan Amum did not say anything about settling Abyei’s future through a deal or that it would be handled by Sudan’s tripartite Presidency, which includes the President of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, as 1st Vice President.

“Pagan did not say Abyei will be handled by Presidency. He was misquoted. He said the referendum date for Abyei is the same as the referendum date for Southern Sudan referendum,” said Makueng.

Most analysts believe the autonomous region of South Sudan will vote to become fully independent in a seprate referendum in January.

On Tuesday, Agence France Presse reported Amum as saying that instead of holding a Abyei referendum on the region, the presidency should "take a decision and transfer Abyei by presidential decree to the south, because the process of Abyei referendum has been delayed and there is no time".

"That is what I see as the future of Abyei," AFP reported him as saying.

In the media briefing held in South Sudan’s capital Juba, Amum accused the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in north Sudan of holding talks on the contested area “hostage.”

Amum suggested that the stalled referendum vote on the future of Abyei - an oil-producing region like the south - could be scrapped in favor of a political settlement that gives the area to the south, saying the South is willing to pay a “ransom” to the ruling party in north Sudan to secure such settlement.

Discussions between the parties to the 2005 peace deal that agreed to the Abyei referendum and the south’s self determination vote have been postponed indefinitely despite being scheduled to reconvene on yesterday in Addis Ababa.

The SPLM official said his party would remain actively engaged in negotiations aimed at salvaging the floundering talks over the contested area even if this means “paying ransom for Abyei which has been held hostage by the NCP.”

“When this is done, the borders and map of South Sudan would change to reflect the new development,” Amum said.

On Wednesday a Reuters interview with Luka Biong, a senior SPLM member of Sudan’s coalition government in Khartoum, appeared to corroborate and elaborate on Amum’s statement.

Biong who is the Government of National Unity’s cabinet affairs minister told Reuters:

the south had accepted a U.S. suggestion that it annex Abyei by presidential decree if the referendum did not go ahead.

To compensate the north for agreeing to a peaceful settlement along these lines, the south would agree to arrange a financial package.

He said this could be in the form of an interest-free loan to the north to cover up to half the loss in oil revenues if the south secedes.

Talks have been deadlocked over the eligibility criteria for voters in the Abyei referendum, a right contested between the indigenous southern tribe of Dinka Ngok and the Arab nomadic tribe of Misseriya, which is associated with the north.

The NCP wants the cattle-herding Misseriya, who enter Abyei for a few months each year, to be able to vote while the SPLM insists that the right to vote should be confined to the Dinka Ngok.

Amum said on Tuesday that the “Misseriya have no right to participate in the Abyei referendum. They do not have any single right whatsoever”.

But in Biong’s interview he said that under the US proposal in the event that the referendum does not go ahead the SPLM would grant the Missiriya citizenship rights so they could continue to use the region to find pasture for their cattle.

The south would also use some of Abyei’s oil revenues to set up a development fund for the Missiriya, Biong said.

Washington had put forward the proposal of a political settlement, the minister said, in an attempt to avoid the region triggering renewed conflict between the two sides.

"They put this proposal ... having a presidential decree to return Abyei back to the south and the Missiriya to have dual citizenship — we accepted it," Biong said.

Abyei was transfered to the north in 1905 under Anglo-Egyptian rule.

Biong’s statements to Reuters were made before the SPLM’s television denial that any deal was being considered.

South Sudan is widely expected to vote for independence in the referendum due to begin 9 January 2011.

Failure to establish the commission to run the Abyei referendum, demarcate the borders or agree whether the Misseriya tribe can vote has raised fears that the Abyei dispute may drag north and south back into civil war.

The second north-south civil war from 1983-2005 caused the deaths of around 2 million people and forced 4 million to flee their homes according to the UN.