Residents of the flashpoint Abyei region claimed by
both Sudan and South Sudan were voting Monday in
an unofficial referendum to decide which country
they belong to, a move likely to inflame tensions in
the war-ravaged region, officials said.
“The vote is for the people of Abyei to choose their
future,” Mr Luka Biong, spokesman for the Abyei
Referendum High Committee told AFP.
“It has been proceeding well, it is being carried out in
peace, and we have already seen large numbers turn
out,” Mr Biong, an academic and former senior
official in South Sudan’s ruling party added.
More than half of the 65,000 registered voters have
already cast their ballot in the three-day vote, he
Patrolled by some 4,000 Ethiopian-led UN
peacekeepers, the area is home to the settled Ngok
Dinka, closely connected to South Sudan, as well the
semi-nomadic Arab Misseriya, who traditionally move
back and forth from Sudan grazing their cattle.
Only the Ngok Dinka are voting in the referendum —
although organisers insist it is open to all — and the
Misseriya have already angrily said they will not
recognise the results of any unilateral poll.
Abyei was meant to vote on whether to be part of
Sudan or South Sudan in January 2011 — the same
day Juba voted overwhelmingly to split from the
north — as part of the 2005 peace deal which ended
Sudan’s civil war.
That referendum was repeatedly stalled, and
Sudanese troops stormed the Lebanon-sized enclave
in May 2011 forcing over 100,000 to flee southwards,
leaving a year later after international pressure.
Ngok Dinka leaders last week said they would press
ahead with their own vote.
However, the United Nations and AU have warned
that any such unilateral move could inflame tensions
in the oil-producing zone and risk destabilising the
uneasy peace between the long-time foes.
“There are long queues of people, but things are
peaceful and calm,” said Rou Manyiel, chairman of
the Abyei civil society organisation and a senior Ngok
Dinka community leader.
“They began to vote on Sunday and they will finish
voting on Tuesday, the third day.”
Meanwhile, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on
Monday pledged to work with his South Sudanese
counterpart to settle the future of the contested
Abyei region, where residents were holding an
“I will continue with my brother Salva Kiir… to reach
a solution for Abyei that can bring satisfaction to the
local communities there,” President Bashir said in a
speech opening a new session of parliament.
The Arab Misseriya tribe, who traditionally move back
and forth through the area grazing their cattle, have
rejected the one-sided ballot which is not sanctioned
by the South Sudanese government.
“What happens in this referendum is none of our
business. We don’t care about it,” the top Misseriya
chief, Mukhtar Babo Nimir, told AFP.
Last week, he said the Misseriya might hold their own
ballot if the Ngok Dinka went ahead, although he
added that the tribe would not act without consulting
the Khartoum government.
The United Nations and African Union have warned
that any unilateral move could inflame tensions in
the oil-producing zone and risk destabilising the
uneasy peace between Sudan and South Sudan.
In his speech, Bashir said he and Kiir had agreed at a
summit last week to form an Abyei police force and
They had already pledged in September to quickly
build that administration, which has been delayed for
more than two years since both sides first agreed to
Bashir’s comments came a day after the African
Union Peace and Security Council said it was unable
to visit Abyei on Saturday and Sunday because of
“obstruction” by Sudan.
It said Khartoum insisted that the visit be postponed
for “contrived security reasons”.
“Council stresses that those who obstructed its visit
should bear full responsibility for any resulting
negative development in the area,” an AU statement
The official SUNA news agency on Sunday quoted
Foreign Minister Ali Karti as saying Khartoum asked
for a postponement of the AU visit because of the
unofficial referendum process.