By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
SURREY, UK (ANS) -- A human rights organization is echoing the plea of an Abyei elder for the future of the disputed region not to be forgotten, ahead of the third anniversary of the delayed referendum on self determination.
Map showing location of Abyei
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said in a news release that according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the Sudanese civil war, a referendum on the future of the oil-rich region should have occurred alongside South Sudan's referendum on independence, which took place on Jan. 9 2011.
The Abyei Area is an area of 4,072 square miles in Sudan. It was given "special administrative status" by the 2004 Protocol on the Resolution of the Abyei Conflict (Abyei Protocol) in the CPA. The area is claimed by South Sudan, but currently controlled by the northern Sudanese government.
However, it was postponed due to ongoing disagreements between Khartoum and South Sudan over voter eligibility. The nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe, which accesses certain pasture-lands in Abyei for part of each year, wants to be given full voting rights in the referendum.
However, according to the CPA's Abyei Protocol and an international ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), only the Ngok Dinka tribe and permanent residents may vote.
CSW said on Oct. 31 2013, the Ngok Dinka General Conference organized an unofficial vote in Abyei, termed the "Peoples' Referendum," in which 98 percent of registered Ngok Dinka voters participated. The unofficial vote resulted in 99.9 percent of participants voting for the area to join South Sudan.
The current crisis in South Sudan threatens to overshadow ongoing negotiations on Abyei and the full implementation of the CPA.
Since Dec. 15 2013, the nation has been embroiled in a political power struggle with increasingly ethnic dimensions. An estimated 1,000 people have died, over 200,000 have been internally displaced and over 30,000 have fled the country.
President al Bashir of Sudan and President Kiir were reported to have agreed to consider the creation of a joint force to protect vital oil fields, although this was subsequently denied in a statement issued by the Sudanese Foreign Ministry.
The possibility of a joint force has raised anxieties in Abyei. CSW said the ar ea has yet to recover from Sudanese invasion of 2011, and a Sudanese Armed Force presence in oil fields in the north of South Sudan would be in close proximity to Abyei.
The people of Abyei are also vulnerable to attacks from Misseriya tribesmen. In May 2013 the Paramount Chief of Abyei was killed in an ambush, despite being in a UN convoy.
An Abyei elder speaking to CSW said, "We are extremely worried that Abyei will be forgotten. The international community and the UN in particular must ensure that the agreements reached on Abyei continue despite the recent developments."
CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in the news release, "We offer our condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the fighting in South Sudan and urge all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire for the sake of civilians, and to reach a political solution with the utmost urgency. The plight of the people of Abyei must not be neglected in the midst of this appalling and volatile conflict."
He added, "The international community must remain vigilant against any attempts to take advantage of the current chaos to undermine international agreements on Abyei through the use of force, intimidation, or by altering the local demography."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.