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US Backs AU on Abyei, Seeks Solution for Both Sides

South Sudan in Focus' Washington host John Tanza and US Special Envoy for South Sudan and Sudan Donald Booth

South Sudan in Focus' Washington host John Tanza and US Special Envoy for South Sudan and Sudan Donald Booth

The United States backs a solution for the disputed Abyei area, which is claimed by both South Sudan and Sudan, that benefits both residents with ties to the south and nomads who want to be part of Sudan, the US special envoy to South Sudan and Sudan told VOA News.

"A statement was issued after the troika meeting I attended on the 10th of September... to resolve the final status of Abyei through a process that will allow the residents of Abyei to have self-determination but also guarantee the right of those who migrate through on a regular basis," special envoy Donald Booth, who was named to the key post by President Barack Obama in August, told South Sudan in Focus co-host John Tanza in an interview.

The 2005 peace agreement between North and South Sudan called for a referendum for the people of Abyei to decide if they want to remain part of Sudan or South Sudan.

The African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) has proposed holding the referendum this month, but Khartoum has stood in the way of the vote.

Sudan fears the referendum would exclude most of the Misseriya people, migrant herders who pass through Abyei on their way to grazing land and watering holes, and who are loyal to Khartoum. It wants a negotiated political settlement for Abyei instead.

But on Monday, South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the referendum was the only democratic way for the people of Abyei to decide whether they want to remain in the north or return to the south. The majority of the population in Abyei is Ngok Dinka, who are historically tied to the south.

At a meeting last month, the United States, United Kingdom and Norway, the three countries that make up the troika for South Sudan and Sudan, expressed support for the presidents of South Sudan and Sudan after they committed to ease lingering tensions between the two countries by, among other things, improving border security and allowing people and goods to move more freely over the border.

But they also voiced concern over growing tensions in Abyei.

Booth traveled to Addis Ababa, South Sudan and Sudan for meetings with key officials around a week after starting his new job. Obama appointed Booth as special envoy for the Sudans on Aug. 28.

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