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Abyei Region Key as Sudan, South Sudan Leaders Meet

  • VOA News

FILE - People from the Misseriya tribe of the Abyei oil region protest against the proposal of African Union (AU) mediator former South African president Thabko Mbeki for a referendum to decide whether the region belonged to Sudan or South Sudan, Nov. 28, 2012.

FILE - People from the Misseriya tribe of the Abyei oil region protest against the proposal of African Union (AU) mediator former South African president Thabko Mbeki for a referendum to decide whether the region belonged to Sudan or South Sudan, Nov. 28, 2012.

The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan are meeting Tuesday in the latest effort to resolve outstanding issues between the two nations, including the fate of the disputed oil-rich Abyei region.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir traveled to South Sudan's capital Juba for the talks with President Salva Kiir. Last month, they met in Sudan to avert a shutdown of South Sudanese oil exports through Sudan's pipelines.

Officials from both countries have stressed the critical role Bashir and Kiir must play in working to ensure the people of Abyei decide their nationality through a referendum process backed by the African Union.

South Sudan's Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told VOA that Sudan has not moved quickly enough to facilitate the planned referendum. He added that Abyei residents are "restless" and considering carrying out the vote on their own - a prospect that both countries oppose.

A member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party told VOA the two countries have not yet reached an agreement to create the stable environment necessary for the referendum.

map of Abyei, includes Kiir River

map of Abyei, includes Kiir River

The status of that region is one of several issues that have strained relations between the two countries since the south seceded from the north in 2011. Abyei was to hold a referendum that year to determine whether it would be a part of the north or south, but the vote did not take place.

Sudan says the vote should not include the Misseriya nomads who pass through the disputed territory on their way to grazing grounds for their cattle.

Relations between the former civil war foes have been strained, occasionally flaring up into hostilities. Last year, the countries almost went to war over which side would control Abyei.

The two countries also have had disputes over oil, which is pumped in the south but refined in the north.
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