October 27, 2010 / 5:41 PM / 10 years ago

Sudan south eyes settlement on disputed Abyei

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan’s south is ready to offer the north a financial package to soften the blow of secession if it agrees to allow southern annexation of the oil-producing Abyei region, a senior former southern rebel said on Wednesday.

Sudan's Vice-President and leader of SPLM Kiir chats with Sudanese President al-Bashir after swearing-in ceremony in Khartoum. REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin

Both the north and the south claim the central Abyei area, which is due to hold a referendum to decide which part of Sudan it will join on January 9, 2011, the same day southerners are due to vote in a referendum on independence from the north.

But the north and south have been unable to agree on who should be allowed to vote in the Abyei referendum, raising questions about whether it can go ahead and leading mediators to to come up with alternative solutions.

Luka Biong, minister of cabinet affairs in the coalition government formed after a 2005 north-south peace deal, told Reuters the south had accepted a U.S. suggestion that it annex Abyei by presidential decree if the referendum did not go ahead.

To compensate the north for agreeing to a peaceful settlement along these lines, the south would agree to arrange a financial package.

He said this could be in the form of an interest-free loan to the north to cover up to half the loss in oil revenues if the south secedes.

The south would also create a development fund from Abyei’s oil revenues for Sudan’s Missiriya nomads, who move south through Abyei a few months a year to graze cattle. The Missiriya tribes would also be granted citizenship rights in the event the Abyei referendum did not take place.

“Abyei could be a flashpoint for not having peace — this is for the sake of peace,” said Biong, a senior member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the grouping of former southern rebels. “It’s bigger than just Abyei.”

He said such a settlement could only happen if an Abyei vote became impossible and must be announced before the January 9 southern plebiscite and implemented before July 9, 2011 when the peace process formally ends.

The northern National Congress Party (NCP) says the Missiriya should have full voting rights in Abyei alongside the Dinka Ngok, who farm the land all year round, and other residents. The SPLM rejects this.

Biong said Washington feared the dispute over Abyei would end up leading to conflict and had therefore proposed the settlement.

“They put this proposal ... having a presidential decree to return Abyei back to the south and the Missiriya to have dual citizenship — we accepted it,” Biong said.

Under a 2005 peace deal a semi-autonomous southern government took 50 percent of the revenues from wells in the south, a majority of the 470,000 barrels per day output.

But if the south secedes, it will want all revenues from the southern fields.

Sudan’s north-south civil war was fought over issues including religion, oil, ethnicity and ideology and claimed some 2 million lives. Most analysts predict the south will vote to secede but a lack of agreement over Abyei, citizenship, oil sharing and the north-south border has raised fears of renewed conflict.

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