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UK opposes any unilateral moves in Abyei; AU welcomes Bashir-Kiir summit

September 5, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – The British government opposes any unilateral move to determine the future status of the disputed region of Abyei between Sudan and South Sudan, a senior diplomat said.

UN peacekeepers patrol the streets of Abyei town following the attack by the northern Sudanese Armed Forces (UN)

UK ambassador at the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant posted on Twitter that while his government supports the African Union (AU) proposal for Abyei, it has to be implemented with the agreement of Khartoum and Juba.

"We support AU proposals for Abyei referendum but timing/format to be agreed by both sides. Unilateral action won’t help," he wrote.

Last year, the African Union mediation team proposed that a referendum be held in Abyei this October, but that only those residing permanently in the area would be allowed to vote in the plebiscite, and decide whether they want to join Sudan or South Sudan.

This proposal would effectively make the majority of voters come from the Dinka Ngok tribe, aligned with South Sudan, thus putting the Arab Misseriya nomads, who spend several months in Abyei every year grazing, not part of the voting.

However, Sudan swiftly rejected the plan, which received the blessing of the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC).

Yesterday, South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei said that his government "sent out a circular to all institutions - be they public or private entities - to release the people of Abyei [to] go on special leave with full pay. We want them [to] go to register so that they [can] vote to determine their destiny".

Luka Biong who was the former co-chair of Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) from South Sudan, said that Abyei must be put under international trusteeship in order to avoid unilateral declaration by the Ngok Dinka of the final status of Abyei.

“This option of unilateral declaration by the Ngok Dinka of the final status of their area can only be avoided if the AU could endorse the proposal and UN to declare Abyei area as UN protectorate area until a referendum is conducted to determine its final status”, he reiterated in an article he published last month.

South Sudan president Salva Kiir reiterated to his Sudanese counterpart Omer Hassan al-Bashir during his visit to Khartoum this week that his country wants the AU Abyei plan to be the basis for resolving the standoff with Khartoum.

Bashir said that Sudan is determined to find a final solution that is satisfactory to all parties in Abyei that would ensure peaceful coexistence between the components of the local communities there "so as not to be a thorn on the side of relations between the two countries in the future".

Abyei was supposed to hold a vote in January 2011 on whether its residents want to join north or south Sudan. The plebiscite was delayed over disagreements on who is eligible to vote between the pro-south Dinka Ngok tribes and the pro-north Misseriya tribe.

The two sides also have yet to agree on the formation of local institutions in Abyei.

Meanwhile the Chairperson of the Commission of the AU Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma issued a statement welcoming the outcome of this week’s summit meeting between Bashir and Kiir in Khartoum.

The top AU official said she is encouraged by the steps taken to conclude the summit with positive outcomes "particularly the decision by the Government of Sudan to indefinitely suspend the shutdown of the transportation and processing of oil from South Sudan".

She also commended the two presidents "for the activation of the two Committees created to oversee the implementation of the 27 September 2012 Cooperation Agreements".

Dlamini-Zuma also urged "all stakeholders and the citizens of both countries to continue to support their leaders in their efforts to address the outstanding challenges".