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Sudan’s NCP says SPLM has three options to resolve impasse over Abyei

November 9, 2010 (KHARTOUM) – The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan has laid out three options before the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) to break the deadlock on the oil-rich region of Abyei that lies on the North-South borders.

Sudan’s National Congress Party (NCP) deputy leader and presidential assistant Nafi Ali Nafi addresses a rally during a campaign for the referendum on Sudan’s unity, in Khartoum November 9, 2010 (Reuters)

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the NCP and SPLM stipulates that two simultaneous self-determination referendums should be held in South Sudan and Abyei so that its residents can decide their fate.

While Southern Sudan will have the option to establish their own state, the people of Abyei are to vote on whether they want to stay with the North or join an independent South.

Both votes are to be held on January 9, 2011 per the CPA but preparations for them have proceeded haltingly amid political and logistical obstacles and the southerners have accused the northerners of stalling, warning of violence if the referendum is delayed.

Sudanese officials have already announced publicly that the Abyei referendum cannot be held as scheduled because of disagreements over who is eligible to vote. U.S. brokered talks in Ethiopia on the issue have failed to bridge differences over the composition of Abyei’s electoral commission and the demarcation of the region’s borders has yet to start.

The borders of Abyei were redrawn by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) after the NCP & SPLM agreed to refer the matter to it last year. However, the technical commission mandated with demarcating the borders on the ground have yet to start the process because of threats leveled by the Arab Misseriya tribe who objected to the PCA ruling.

The SPLM in control of the South has interpreted the ruling as meaning that the cattle-herding Misseriya tribe have no right to vote in areas assigned by the PCA to the Dinka Ngok. However, the Misseriya vowed not to allow the vote to take place even if they have to resort to force unless they are allowed to participate.

The Abyei referendum commission, which has yet to be formed, will have the final word on who is eligible to vote.

The NCP deputy chairman Nafie Ali Nafie said today at a rally for unity in Khartoum that the SPLM choices on the issue include accepting a delay to the Abyei referendum, finding a solution prior to the vote or conceding the whole region to the North.

Nafie accused the SPLM of seeking to suppress the rights of the Misseriya while focusing on the Dinka Ngok and stressed that they will not compromise on the rights of the Arab tribe.

He also ruled out granting dual citizenship to Southerners should the South vote to secede in the referendum saying it is an "illegal" course of action as there would be two sovereign states after the split.

It is widely expected that the Southerners will choose to secede driven by bitterness and mistrust of the Arab-Muslim dominated North.

The NCP official also described those who support separation as "traitors" who are executing the plans of colonialist powers. He also claimed that the SPLM is intimidating prospective voters residing in the North to return South and cast their votes.

"The strange thing that they [SPLM] tells them [Southerners in North] to go vote and return [North afterwards]," Nafie said.

In Washington, the U.S. administration today suggested for the first time that it might not be possible to organize the Abyei referendum as scheduled and suggested north and south weigh an "alternative".

"While it is theoretically possible that the referendum could still go on schedule regarding Abyei, we recognize that that is increasingly problematic. We are not relieving the parties of their obligation. Today, they’re obliged to cooperate and schedule a referendum on Abyei on January 9," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.

"Discussions continue on Abyei, and we will continue to hold the parties to their obligation to a referendum on Abyei... unless they arrive at an alternative that is mutually agreeable to both sides," Crowley added.

Yet "we recognize that given that there is not agreement between north and south on the details of that referendum, if they, you know, are able to arrive at a different course of action, that is up to them, but it has to be a mutually agreeable alternative," the U.S. official said.

"It is up to the parties to decide, you know, you know, to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution to Abyei. And it’s their responsibility, first and foremost," he stressed.

(ST)