South Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said residents of the disputed oil-rich Abyei region are restless and contemplating holding a referendum to determine whether to remain in Sudan or return to South Sudan.
The African Union High Implementation Panel has proposed holding the referendum this month. But, while Juba says it supports a referendum, Khartoum is opposed and favors a negotiated political settlement.
As Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir visits South Sudan Tuesday, Benjamin said it is essential for the two leaders to come to some understanding on the Abyei referendum.
“That is the proposal of the African Union that the referendum on Abyei was to happen in October, but there has not been any sign of that because Khartoum has not yet agreed to that. And, the citizens of Abyei are proposing a community solution. Therefore, it is important that President Bashir and President Salva Kiir Mayardit put their heads together to make sure that the referendum is carried out so that we avoid any unilateral declaration of a referendum by the community of Abyei,” he said.
Benjamin said South Sudan supports the international community proposal of an October referendum, but does not support unilateral action by Abyei residents.
He said, with just two weeks left in the month, the residents of Abyei are becoming restless.
Abyei is inhabited by the Misseriya tribe of Arab origin supported by the north and the Ngok Dinka tribe, which enjoys support in South Sudan.
Benjamin said Abyei is overwhelmingly populated by Ngok Dinka and there is no presence of Misseriya in Dinka Ngok territory.
“First of all, the north Dinka are only found in the Abyei area whose boundaries have been drawn and ratified by The Hague International Court. So, there is no presence of Messeriya in Abyei Dinka Ngok territory. If there are any other residents, it could be some few Merreriyas, it could be some few Sudanese or few South Sudanese who could be there. But, the territory is specifically for the Nile Ngok Dinka,” Benjamin said.