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JUBA - 22 Oct 2013

Presidents dodge mention of Abyei referendum

President Salva Kiir Mayardit and President Omar Hassan al-Bashir at today’s summit in Juba refrained from public mention of the Abyei Referendum, instead focusing on matters of cooperation and trade.

Voter registration for a unilateral referendum among the Ngok Dinka of Abyei started in the contested region two days ago, according to a South Sudanese diplomat.

South Sudan’s Ambassador to Russia Chol Deng Alak stated that the registration process began last Sunday. He said he expected the process to continue until 25 October, with polling to kick off on the 26th.

In spite of the pressure coming from the Ngok Dinka community, Juba’s foreign ministry has downplayed the legitimacy of the upcoming poll.

Minister Barnaba Marial yesterday when asked about the community referendum responded that the African Union does not allow a unilateral decision on the referendum.

Bashir and Kiir today agreed only on general terms for administration and policing of Abyei and not on a means by which to resolve the status of the disputed area, according to a joint communiqué.

The communiqué states that the two leaders agreed “to expedite the establishment of Abyei Administration, Council and Police organs, and reaffirm that the 2% share of Abyei Area’s oil revenue, including arrears, will be paid to the Abyei Administration.”

The mentioned funding is likely to make a substantial impact on the local economy, but the modalities by which it will be allocated are not settled. It’s too early to tell whether this summit decision will impact the Ngok Dinka community’s plans to conduct a referendum in Abyei before the end of the month.

According to Ambassador Alak, who hails from the Ngok Dinka tribe, the community will stick to their decision to conduct a unilateral referendum since the two countries have apparently failed to agree on an amicable settlement.

Alak had predicted in an interview with Radio Tamazuj yesterday that Bashir’s visit to Juba would not result in a solution to the Abyei dispute.

The Ngok Dinka leader also explained that both national and international observers have been invited to monitor the referendum.

“We have sent invitations to the observers, press and religious leaders to monitor the process in the area,” he noted.

“If Sudan’s government is willing to join us, it is highly welcome, but it should maintain the smooth conduct of referendum without influencing the referendum result,” he added.

For his part, Al-Khair al-Fahim, the head of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee from the side of Sudan, said that the planned referendum is a provocation and appealed to the Ngok Dinka to uphold the existing agreements on Abyei.

In an interview with Radio Tamazuj to be aired tomorrow, the Misseriya leader also said that the Abyei issue was the most important subject on the table at the talks between President Bashir and President Kiir, downplaying the importance of the border, oil and trade issues.