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By Paulino Mamiir Chol - 19 Jan 2024

Opinion | Kiir’s decree on disarming Abyei and Twic is ineffective

The Presidential decree on disarming and expulsion, intended to address the ongoing conflict between Ngok and Twic Mayardit, has proven shockingly ineffective. Despite President Kiir’s issuance of the decree on January 16, 2024, aimed at immediately ceasing hostilities in the Abyei Special Administrative Area and Twic of Warrap State, it has failed to bring about a resolution to the violent confrontation. Moreover, the decree, which also placed a hold on the “Abyei Box” and expelled spiritual leader Gai Machiek, is deemed to be in violation of the Constitution of South Sudan.

The Presidential Decree was purportedly based on Article 97 (3) of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011. According to this article, the President holds the positions of the head of State and Government, Commander-in-Chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, and Supreme Commander of all other regular forces.

The President is entrusted with representing the will of the people and exercising powers vested in the office by the Constitution. Additionally, Article 101(a) outlines the President’s responsibilities, emphasizing the preservation of South Sudan’s security and protection of its territorial integrity.

Despite these constitutional provisions empowering the President to ensure the security and protection of South Sudanese citizens, President Kiir has fallen short in guaranteeing their safety. The nation continues to grapple with persistent violence, and President Kiir’s silence on these matters raises concerns.

It is noteworthy that President Kiir’s actions, particularly the issuance of the Presidential Decree on disarming and expulsion in response to the death of Deputy Governor Noon Deng during the war, are viewed as a departure from the principles outlined in the constitution. This raises questions about the effectiveness and constitutionality of the Presidential Decree in addressing the complex issues at hand.

In his decree, President Kiir stated, “All the relevant security organs MUST continue to carry out arms searches and peaceful disarmament of the civilian populations in Warrap, Western Bahr el Ghazal states, as well as other parts of the country. The security forces must ensure that the Nuer youth present in Twic and Ngok areas are moved back to the Nuer land...” (Radio Tamazuj in Juba, January 17, 2024, Kiir orders the expulsion of the Nuer spiritual leader from Warrap).

President Kiir instructed security officials to continue peacefully disposing of firearms from civilian populations in Warrap, Western Bahr el Ghazal states, and elsewhere in the country. It is crucial for the security forces to ensure that the Nuer youth present in the Twic and Ngok regions return to their homeland.

However, a critical question arises: Is it legal for the SSPDF to operate within Abyei’s territory to disarm Abyei militias and remove Nuer militias? The answer is no; it is not legal for the SSPDF to conduct arms searches and peaceful disarmament within Abyei’s territory and remove Nuer militias. The Presidential Decree directly violated the Constitution of South Sudan regarding the security arrangements in the Abyei Area.

Article 97(4)(c) states, “The security arrangements in the Abyei Area shall be in accordance with the provisions of the Abyei protocol, 2005, or in accordance with any alternative arrangements agreed upon by the two governments of South Sudan and of Sudan.”

The Abyei Protocol of 2004 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 require that the security arrangements in the Abyei Area be established through the agreement of both governments.

The Abyei protocol outlines, “Abyei is a bridge between the north and the south, linking the people of Sudan. The territory is defined as the area of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905. During the Interim Period, Abyei will be accorded special administrative status. Residents of Abyei will be both Western Kordofan and Bahr el Ghazal citizens, with representation in the legislatures of both states.”

According to the Abyei Protocol on the Resolution of the Abyei Conflict, only the two governments of South Sudan and Sudan must agree on the security arrangements of the Abyei Area.

The Presidential Decree of President Kiir further declares, “there must be an immediate cessation of hostilities by both communities, the governors of Warrap and Western Bahr el Ghazal states, and the Chief Administrator of Abyei Special Administrative Area are directed to continue engaging politicians, military leaders, traditional leaders, and other stakeholders in their respective areas in a bid to find lasting peace between the two sisterly communities through the initiation of dialogues to reconcile the two communities. Land borders and boundaries in conflict-affected areas of Twic and Ngok Dinka... including the question of the Abyei box, must be put on hold” (Radio Tamazuj in Juba, January 17, 2024, Kiir orders the expulsion of the Nuer spiritual leader from Warrap).

The Presidential Decree calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities between Ngok and Twic came belatedly, after significant damage had already occurred. President Kiir's intervention appeared weakened by his prolonged observation of the two rival communities engaging in conflict over an international border for over two years. The Deputy Governor’s death in the frontline battle with Twic Mayardit prompted the issuance of the Decree, but it came after numerous casualties, cattle raids, and the destruction of homes between Ngok and Twic Mayardit.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the Presidential Decree was compromised by its directive to postpone the “Abyei Box”, rather than addressing the reality that Ngok and UNISFA should relocate to the North Kiir River. The Decree seemed to go against Twic Mayardit, asserting that Ngok would not be disarmed as it is not considered part of South Sudan.

Regrettably, the South Sudanese government’s support for the conflict between Ngok and Twic Mayardit over the international border stands in violation of the South Sudanese Constitution. In contrast, the Sudanese government adheres to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on the Resolution of the Abyei Conflict.

On September 26, 2022, the Sudanese government communicated its position on the final status of Abyei, emphasizing adherence to the CPA of 2005 and the Abyei Protocol of 2004. The Republic of Sudan explicitly objected to the operation of Anthony airport in the Abyei area by the Republic of South Sudan, considering it a violation of national sovereignty. The Sudanese government demanded the cessation of all activities at the airport, including the unilateral measures taken by South Sudan to operate Agok airport, not under the sovereignty of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Republic of Sudan.

Referring to the CPA, Chapter IV, Section 1.4, the document states, “January 1, 1956, lines between north and south [are] inviolate” (P. 66).

The Republic of Sudan’s stance on the status of Abyei is clear, asserting that, in accordance with the CPA of 2005, the lines between the north and south were made permanent based on the 1956 map.

The operation of Anthony Airport in the Abyei area was a clear violation of Sudanese national sovereignty, demanding the cessation of all activities at the airport. Despite this, UNISFA and the South Sudanese government continued to operate Agok Airport unlawfully, further exacerbating the violent conflict between Ngok and Twic Mayardit. It is imperative that the South Sudanese government cease using Agok Airport and allow UNISFA to cross the South Kiir River to Abyei town.

Moreover, the Presidential Decree failed to address the core issue of land ownership. Issued under the influence of individuals opposed to Twic Mayardit, the Decree announced the postponement of the Abyei box, allowing Abyei people to remain on Twic land illegally. Twic Mayardit rejects this tactic and insists that Ngok must move to the North Kiir River for the Decree to be respected.

President Kiir’s directive to expel the Nuer Spiritual leader and other Nuer youth from Warrap State, relocating them to other states in the country, except Warrap and the Abyei Special Administrative Area, raises further concerns. The expulsion of an individual, like Gai Machiek, who sought refuge in another state, violates the constitutional right to freedom of movement and liberty to choose residence.

Article 27(1) on freedom of movement and residence explicitly states, "Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of movement and the liberty to choose his or her residence..." (South Sudanese Government website for the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs). Gai Machiek, based on this constitutional provision, has the right to remain in Twic, as he was in the region before the violent conflict began.

The proposal by General Tut Gatluak, Presidential Advisor on National Security Affairs, and General Joseph Nguen Monytuil, Unity State Governor, to disarm Twic and expel Gai Machiek with the intention of harming him is unacceptable. Twic Mayardit firmly opposes surrendering Gai Machiek to Tut Gatluak and Nguen Monytuil, who seek to harm him.

The Presidential Decree, as stated, declares, “The security forces must ensure that Gai Machiek, the Nuer Spiritual Leader, is expelled from the Ajak Kuac area in Warrap State and peacefully returned to Unity State or moved to another state of his choice within the Bahr el Ghazal region other than Warrap and Abyei Special Administrative Area” (Radio Tamazuj in Juba, January 17, 2024, Kiir orders the expulsion of the Nuer spiritual leader from Warrap).

The Presidential Decree, if enforced to expel Gai Machiek from Twic Mayardit, would be viewed as a declaration of war against Twic Mayardit, a clear violation of the South Sudanese Constitution. To establish a lasting solution, the following steps should be taken:

1-President Kiir should rescind the Presidential Decree regarding the disarmament of Twic Mayardit and the expulsion of Gai Machiek. Disarming Twic Mayardit and expelling Gai Machiek are non-negotiable redlines.

2- The South Sudanese government needs to acknowledge that the Ngok people were resettled in the South Kiir River as refugees from Sudan.

3- President Kiir should issue a new Presidential Decree allowing Ngok and UNISFA to cross the Kiir River. UNISFA should be relocated from Twic areas south of Kiir River to the north, including Athony, Aneet, Agok, Abithong, and Wutpeeth.

4- Ngok must accept the 1956 map and peacefully cross the Kiir River to the north, establishing a basis for enduring peace between Ngok and Twic Mayardit.

5- Ngok must acknowledge the Kiir River as the international border between the Kordofan and Bahr el Ghazal regions.

6- If Ngok refuses to recognize the Kiir River as the international border and declines to move north, Twic County should be granted administrative status to align with the Abyei Administrative area for fair representation.

7- To foster peace, key figures including President Salva Kiir, First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, Elder George Kongor Arop, General Awet Akot, Hon. Dr. Aldo Ajou Deng Akuei, General Deng Wol, General Aleu Ayieny Aleu, and General Bona Abang should publicly affirm that the South Kiir River belongs to Twic Mayardit.

8-Establish a seven-member national committee, including General Akol Koor Kuch, Chief Madhel Lang Juuk, Honorable Thiik Thiik Mayardit, and four members from Awiel, Ruweng, and Unity State, to coordinate the peace process between the two rival communities.

9-The land dispute between Ngok and Twic Mayardit will persist until President Salva Kiir issues a Presidential Order mandating the Abyei Administration and UNISFA to relocate to the north of the Kiir River.

Paulino Mamiir Chol is the Chairperson of Twic Unity Forum (TUF) and a former leader in the Lost Boys/Red Army. He served as the former Chairperson of the Interim Committee of the Twic Mayardit Community in the USA. Paulino is a Ph.D. candidate in Management and Homeland Security at Colorado Technical University.

The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made is the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.