Will Abyei be the stumbling block in a successful Sudan partition?

2011-04-28 13:16

Khartoum will not recognise the new state of south Sudan when it declares independence in July if it insists on claiming the disputed Abyei region, President Omar al-Bashir warned today.

“If they put Abyei in the constitution of the new state of South Sudan, we will not recognise the new state,” Bashir told thousands of supporters at a local election rally in South Kordofan, in which the flashpoint border area currently lies. The speech was broadcast live on state television.

Abyei is the most intractable of a raft of issues North and South Sudan are struggling to negotiate ahead of partition, after southerners voted almost unanimously to split with their former civil war enemies in January’s referendum.

Last week, a draft interim constitution for the south was presented to southern president Salva Kiir at a ceremony in Juba, explicitly stating that Abyei fell within the territory of south Sudan, as confirmed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2009.

Bashir was addressing a rally in Fula, a town in north Sudan’s key oil-producing state of South Kordofan, where gubernatorial and state assembly elections are due on May 2.

He and other senior northern officials have campaigned energetically on behalf of Ahmed Harun, the existing governor and a stalwart of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

Harun, who like the Sudanese president is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in the Darfur, is running for re-election against his deputy, Abdelaziz al-Hilu, the leader of the northern branch of south Sudan’s ruling party the SPLM.

At a similar rally yesterday in Muglad, the historical capital of the Misseriya Arab nomads, Bashir told a large crowd of supporters that Abyei belonged to the north.

“For 22 years, the rebels were not able to enter the region, because it was guarded by you,” he said.

“I will repeat it 100 times: Abyei is a part of the north and it will remain a part of the north,” he added.

The Misseriya, who were a key proxy militia of Khartoum’s army during the 1983-2005 civil war against southern rebels, migrate to Abyei each dry season to find water and pasture for their livestock.

South Kordofan witnessed fierce fighting during the conflict and strong links to the south remain.

The Misseriya fear their migration routes could be blocked by a new international border if Abyei joins the south, as demanded by the pro-southern Dinka Ngok, who live there all year.

Tensions between the two sides have been boiling since January, when a plebiscite to determine Abyei’s future status was shelved indefinitely, due to disagreement over whether the Misseriya should be eligible to participate.

Violence erupted at the end of February, in which at least 70 people were killed and two villages razed in several days of fighting.

United Nations peacekeepers and international monitoring groups have since warned of a build-up of heavy weapons in the area that has raised fears of an escalation to the violence.

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