2.03.2011

Abyei - Sudan's Bargaining Chip


Results for South Sudan's election show 99% of the population favoring secession from the North. My question: Who the heck were the 1% who didn't vote for secession?! Anyways, as the South Sudanese celebrate their victory, one town remains in limbo. This town is Abyei.

Abyei is a town along the contested border between North and South Sudan which is home to two different tribes: the Misseriya (predominantly Muslim) and the Ngok Dinka (predominantly Christian).I hate labeling which religions the two tribes are because the conflict occurring there and in Sudan is not based upon religion, but it helps knowing the differences between the two groups. 

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the war between the North and South promised the people of Abyei the chance to vote in a referendum on which part of the country they would like to be considered. The Misseriya mostly favor remaining part of the North, but the Ngok Dinka wish to be considered Southern Sudanese. Although the Dinka are the dominant group in Abyei, their voices are scarcely heard.
Oil Fields Along the Border of North and South Sudan (Source: NYT)
One of the major issues in Abyei's situation is oil. Once oil was discovered, the government officials in Khartoum took more of an interest in keeping possession of Abyei. The presence of militias, good farm land, and oil all combine to create a recipe for potential disaster. While voting was occurring peacefully in the South, militias (some say they were armed Misseriya nomads) were busy ambushing convoys of Southern Sudanese who were returning to the South to vote in the referendum. According to the New York Times, an estimated 50 people were killed during conflicts over the past couple weeks in the regions surrounding Abyei. The referendum that was supposed to take place in Abyei has currently been postponed indefinitely. 

If solutions aren't found to resolve Abyei's referendum issue before South Sudan declares its independence on July 9th, then conflict could easily re-erupt in Abyei. The first priority right now is for North and South to agree on who can vote in the Abyei referendum and when it can take place. The situation in Abyei won't improve unless a referendum is schedule to take place before the South secedes. Until then, the people of Abyei are living in a limbo between North and South and face constant threats of violence. Although Abyei is just a little town in the middle of the huge country of Sudan, it could potentially be the deciding factor of whether or not the South's secession will remain peaceful or erupt into violence. Please give your opinions on what the best solution to Abyei's situation might be and what you think the outcome might be. 

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