Miserriya Arab nomads new pawns in struggle for Sudan

Recent clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and fighters from the nomadic Arab Miserriya community have displaced hundreds of civilians from their homes and raised tension across Abyei, a region lying between the north and South Sudan. Abyei’s Gov. Edward Lino, appointed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, said that in new fighting March 20, “our men, the SPLA, exchanged fire with the Miserriya 20 kilometers east of the Heglig oil field.”

Three weeks earlier, 70 people were killed in al-Mayram township in clashes between the SPLA and Miserriya forces. Another 75 were killed in skirmishes in December and January. Lino attributed the escalating tensions between the Miserriya and SPLM to the delay by the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and southern leaders in reaching a consensus on demarcation of borders in the oil-rich Abyei region.

Bishta Mohammad Salem, chairman of the committee on reconciliation between the Miserriya and Dinka, accused SPLA forces of harassing non-Dinka populations and undermining co-existence among communities in Abyei.

Lino, in turn, demanded the immediate disarmament of the Miserriya. “Who are the Miserriya?” he asked. “Where do they get tankers from? Who finances them and why do they operate with the utmost impunity?” South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit accused the NCP of using the Miserriya to try and push the border further south: “Some people would want to use the Abyei dispute to trigger war in Sudan. Let them be told that Southerners will not provoke anyone but we deserve the right to defend ourselves if need arises.”

Abyei’s status was unresolved in the historic 2005 SPLM-NCP peace deal. The parties later signed the Abyei protocol, but the region has experienced an administrative and political vacuum following disagreements over the final terms. SPLM leaders say the NCP has ignored its proposals over Abyei because of oil revenues—estimated at $529 million in 2007.

Addressing an SPLM convention in Juba on 16 March, Kiir warned that fresh fighting could resume in Abyei following conflicts over cattle raids: “I advise our people, the Ngok Dinka, to let the Miserriya nomads move south and graze their animals, but that does not mean that they occupy our land permanently and even attack our people through cattle raids. They must return to the north during the dry season.”

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, UN special representative for Sudan, warned in a February report to the Security Council that Abyei had emerged as “the biggest stumbling block between the two partners.” (IRIN, March 24)

Earlier this month, Kiir told a group of supporters in Entebbe, Uganda: “We will hold our position on the CPA implementation unless [the] NCP wants to destroy [the] Comprehensive Peace Agreement through use of Miserriya Arab nomads—then history will hold them responsible if Sudan go back to war.” He added: “But I know we shall solve our differences on Abyei issue peacefully.” (New Sudan Vision, March 9)

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