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South Sudan Plays Down Khartoum's Offer to Share Control of Abyei

Officials of the semi-autonomous South Sudan say a suggestion by Khartoum for joint control of the oil-rich town of Abyei is a public relations gimmick that would not resolve the real crisis over the town. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir proposed over the weekend a shared control of Abyei where fighting earlier this month displaced up to a reported 90 thousand people.

United States envoy for Sudan, Richard Williamson, who has been touring the country, reportedly called for creative thinking in other to restore security in Abyei.

Luka Biong Deng is minister for presidential affairs in the government of Southern Sudan. He told VOA the real problem is not joint control but rather where to set the boundary of Abyei.

“You know the issue of Abyei has been resolved in the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement), and there is a protocol for Abyei called the Abyei Protocol. We have agreed in that protocol about how to set up the administration. There should be chief administrator and deputy chief administrator and five heads of departments, and there would be an Abyei area council. I think the problem is not the shared administration. The problem is the boundary within which the administration shall be set up,” he said.

Deng said the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan National Congress party of President Bashir held a joint meeting and agreed to set up a subcommittee to work on the modalities on how to contain the situation in Abyei.

“I think we are going to agree on fundamental issues. One, is that there should be a security arrangement so that the IDPs (internally displaced people) can return home area, and that one could only happened unless there is a redeployment of Sudan armed forces outside of Abyei area, and equally the SPLA (the Sudan People’s Liberation Army) should be redeployed outside the Abyei area as of the provision of the CPA or Abyei Protocol,” Deng said.

He said the two sides also agreed to set up a joint security unit between the Sudan Armed Forces and The SPLA as well as a police to maintain law and order. Deng also said the two sides agreed to set up a civil administration until the Abyei Protocol was implemented.

Deng said the two sides might have to resort to arbitration to amicably resolve the situation of Abyei once and for all.

He said setting the boundaries for Abyei is important because they would determine whether the people of Abyei, through a referendum, could determine whether to be a part of the north or the south.

“The Abyei area is an area that has been contested for a long time ago even during the first civil war. In 1972 during the Addis Ababa Agreement, the area was given a right to determine whether they would like to be administered by the north or by the south. In the Addis Ababa Agreement, the people of Abyei were not given that right. Even before the discovery of oil in that area, this war which resulted in the CPA began in the Abyei area in the 1982 and then resulted in the formation of the SPLA and even the formation of the SPLM (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement). So the boundaries are so important on the one hand because the people of Abyei are going to determine in a referendum whether to be an independent southern Sudan or to be a part of a united Sudan,” he said.

Deng said the issue of Abyei has been made complicated by the discovery of oil in the area. He said Arab pastoralists from the north would have access to the waters and pastures in the Abyei area.

Deng said the fear of the north that the people of Abyei might join the south might have given rise to the recent violence in the area.

The SPLM threatened last week to pull out talks between Khartoum and the United States. Deng said the SPLA was trying to play the role of mediator between the United States and Khartoum. But he said that might not be possible now unless certain conditions are met.

“You know, the SPLA (the Sudan People’s Liberation Army) during the war had established very good relations with the neighbors in the region here and also with other countries, especially the United States of America. So what happened is that the SPLM decided, on the request of the National Congress Party, to help in the normalization of relations between the Sudan government and the U.S. government, and our foreign minister initiated this process. But that normalization of relation was based on two key issues: One on the stability of Sudan, second on implementation of The CPA, and the third on reaching peace agreement in Darfur,” Deng said.