Sudan’s Abyei rivals hold peace talks
By Simon Martelli (AFP)
KADUGLI, Sudan — The feuding ethnic groups of Sudan’s flashpoint Abyei district on the north-south border broke the ice in peace talks on Thursday, after clashes at the weekend that left up to 38 dead.
Leaders of the Dinka Ngok and Misseriya Arabs signed an accord in the South Kordofan state capital Kadugli that addressed the sensitive issues of migration, compensation for past violence and the spread of weapons in the disputed border district.
“This is a step forward. We agreed to work for peace,” the paramount chief of the Ngok Dinka, Kuol Deng Kuol, told AFP, after two days of UN-facilitated talks.
Misseriya tribal chief Hamid al-Ansari said: “This meeting has broken the tensions between the Dinka and the Misseriya. Now we are sitting together and eating together and we are no longer afraid of each other.”
The Misseriya said they had lost 14 dead in clashes with the pro-southern Dinka during the past week. The Dinka said they had lost between 23 and 24 from Friday to Sunday in the latest fighting over the disputed district.
Abyei had been due to hold a plebiscite on its own future alongside this week’s landmark southern independence referendum, but it has been indefinitely postponed in the face of deadlock between north and south over who should be eligible to take part.
The Misseriya, who migrate to Abyei each dry season to find water and pasture for their livestock, insist they should have the same right to vote as the pro-southern Dinka, who live there all year.
South Kordofan deputy governor Abdul Aziz al-Hilu, a senior official in the south’s ruling party the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, witnessed the signing of Thursday’s agreement.
“The main point of this agreement is the freedom of movement, especially for the returnees who are going back to Abyei, the flow of goods and commerce, and the freedom of the cattle herders, as well as the reduction of arms,” he told AFP.
Hilu added that the future status of Abyei was the responsibility of the leadership of the SPLM and the National Congress Party of Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir which are due to due to meet in Kadugli on Sunday.
Ansari said the refusal of the Dinka Ngok to allow the Misseriya to water their cattle lay at the root of the latest flare-up.
“This is the problem. This is our life. Without it, we are a dead people,” the Misseriya leader said.
“They came with their guns to the river and when we came to the river they attacked us.”
Kuol said the Dinka had agreed to allow the Misseriya to water their cattle once they had received compensation for people and livestock killed by the Arab nomads during 2010.
“We agreed to let them go to the river within two weeks, if they pay some compensation,” he said.
Abyei has special status under the 2005 peace deal that ended a devastating 22-year civil war between north and south.
After clashes in the district in May 2008 that claimed more than 100 lives, north and south asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to settle the dispute.
In its ruling, the tribunal reduced the size of the district to those areas which are historically inhabited by the Dinka, but the Misseriya rejected the judgment and subsequent negotiations to find a compromise have so far failed.
The two days of talks that wrapped up on Thursday had been due to take place in November ahead of the Misseriya’s annual migration to Abyei, which normally sees them arrive in late December.
But the talks were repeatedly postponed amid tensions in the run-up to last Sunday’s launch of the week-long southern independence vote and lingering mistrust between the two heavily armed tribes.
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