KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The paramount chief of Dinka Ngok tribesmen from Sudan’s disputed oil-producing Abyei region said on Tuesday they would hold their own referendum to join the south or north of the country if no agreement was made by next month to determine their fate.
Abyei is due to vote alongside a January 9 referendum on independence for south Sudan, which most believe will result in secession. But north and south Sudan are deadlocked over who will plan the Abyei plebiscite and who will vote in it. There are now doubts that the Abyei vote can be held.
The south says the Dinka Ngok tribe and other residents can vote in the plebiscite, but the north insists the Arab nomadic Misseriya who travel south into Abyei a few months a year to graze cattle must also vote.
“We are waiting for our affairs to be solved. If not we want to make our referendum by ourselves legally — we will do it,” Kuol Deng Kuol, the paramount chief of the Dinka Ngok, told Reuters in a telephone interview from Abyei.
“After the end of this month we expect if nothing happens maybe we will take steps forward,” he added, after his tribe held a congress in south Sudan.
Abyei has become the central dispute that threatens the north-south peace process which began with a 2005 peace deal. Many fear it could be the flashpoint which sparks a return to conflict. High-level U.S. brokered talks have failed to reach a compromise and a January 9 Abyei vote looks unlikely.
The northern ruling National Congress Party rejected the Abyei borders drawn by a group of experts appointed under the 2005 deal. The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration resolved that dispute and the NCP accepted the ruling but the Misseriya did not.
Kuol said his tribesmen were only open to direct talks with the Misseriya if they were prepared to recognise the court ruling, the 2005 peace deal which defines Abyei as nine Dinka Ngok chiefdoms, and allow the referendum to go ahead. He said the Misseriya would not be welcome in the south until they did.
“The Misseriya, they have their rights of grazing (in the agreement), the same rights as we have to vote in our referendum,” said Kuol. “They are refusing our rights, The Hague decision ... how can we give them their rights when they don’t give us ours?”
“We will not be happy to welcome them,” he said of the Misseriya migration south which normally begins in January.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the south’s ruling party, has said the NCP is demanding a “ransom” for the Abyei referendum from Washington including concessions such as the lifting of sanctions imposed by the United States in 1997.
“We are very worried because the NCP is using power not logic — they are just abusing their power,” Kuol said.
Sudan’s north-south civil war — Africa’s longest — claimed an estimated 2 million lives and destabilised much of east Africa. It was fought over differences in religion, ideology, ethnicity and oil. Most of Sudan’s 470,000 oil production comes from wells in the south.