As South Sudan voted in its independence referendum Jan. 9-10, more than 60 were killed in the disputed region of Abyei, in a series of clashes between a local police force made up of Ngok Dinka tribesmen and militias of the nomadic Misseriya tribe, said an official of the Abyei Referendum Forum (ARF). The casualties included about 40 Misseriya tribesmen and 24 Dinka civilians. (Xinhua, Jan. 11)
The 2005 peace accord that ended Sudan’s civil war stipulated that two simultaneous referendums be held six years later—one on full independence for the South, and the other on whether Abyei lies in the South or North. But while the first of these is now underway, the second has been postponed indefinitely.
The former southern rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and their tribal allies, the Dinka Ngok, remain at odds with the Misseriya pastoralists and the north’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) over who should be allowed to vote. The disputed enclave, with some of Sudan’s biggest oilfields nearby, has long been a source of north-south tension.
After the peace deal, Khartoum and Juba agreed to set up a commission to demarcate the borders of Abyei, but its findings were contested. In 2009, the two sides referred the issue to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which reduced the region to an area of about 10,000 square kilometers and left out the Heglig oil fields.
The ruling was welcomed by the SPLM, the Dinka Ngok and the North’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), which had secured its coveted oil fields. But it was rejected by the Misseriya, which had fought for the north in the civil war. The NCP subsequently reneged on its commitment and agreed to back the claims of their former war allies.
The Arabic Misseriya have long migrated to Abyei with their cattle during the dry season to take enjoy its grazing lands along the Bahr al-Arab River—or Kiir River to the southerners. Under the referendum law, the Dinka Ngok are eligible to vote, but not the Misseriya, who fear they may lose access to the waters if Abyei joins the South.
Both sides are heavily armed, and . In May 2008, the worst fighting to challenge the 2005 peace accord displaced 60,000 people and flattened Abyei town. (AFP, Jan. 9)