Arguments over who should get to vote in Abyei’s referendum have bubbled up again between North and South Sudan, despite a final ruling issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July that demarcated the region’s borders. The latest report coming out of Sudan says that the north’s NCP is arguing that members of the Misseriya tribes, a pastoralist community that seasonally migrates to Abyei for grazing land, should be included in the referendum that will decide whether the region joins the North or South. (Our report about Abyei this summer provides the back story on the significance of the region.)
The court’s ruling back in July redrew Abyei’s borders in a way that gave concessions to both North and South. While the North gained control of the region’s richest oil fields, the ruling also affirmed that Abyei is the historic homeland of the Ngok Dinka. The Ngok Dinka identify with the South and would almost certainly vote to join the South in the referendum.
The political calculations behind the NCP’s new demand are clear. Not only would the inclusion of the Misseriya vote compromise what is seen as a definite ‘yes’ vote by the Ngok Dinka to join the South, it is also an attempt to appease a constituency that has frequently allied itself with Khartoum’s political and military interests. In the past, the NCP repeatedly promised the Misseriya groups that Abyei would join the North.
Khartoum is playing a familiar game in the eleventh hour of implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the peace treaty signed in 2005 between North and South Sudan that laid out how Sudan’s various territories would determine their future. In the current negotiations over Abyei, as well as the referendum bill, Khartoum has shown no real intentions of reaching an agreement or relinquishing control. U.S. special envoy Scott Gration is currently in Sudan, with a visit to Abyei on his itinerary. Let’s hope he will be able to exert the necessary pressure on Khartoum to prevent Abyei from blowing up once again.
Photo: Abyei town (AP)