Abyei community leaders calls on the displaced to return
June 29, 2012 (ABYEI) - Community leaders from the contested area of Abyei on Friday called on persons displaced from the fertile oil region to voluntary start returning to their homes following the withdrawal by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).
The armed forces of Sudan and South Sudan were ordered to leave the area by the UN Security Council and part of peace roadmap put forward by the African Union to resolve the differences that have arisen from South Sudan’s independence a year ago.
“As you can see yourself, the Sudanese armed forces have left. They are not anymore in where we are today", Kuol Deng Kuol, a paramount chief of the Nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdom, told visiting journalists on Friday.
Kuol dismissed fears held by members of his community that Sudanese army had vacated the town not because of international pressure but tactically but had decided to do so with intention of wanting to retake the area at a later stage.
Since a peace deal between Sudan and southern rebels in 2005 the inhabitants of Abyei have twice been forced to flee the area by SAF attacks, most recently in June 2011 after an attack by southern forces.
As part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement a referendum was due to decide the status of the area. However, Juba and Khartoum have been unable to agree on who is allowed to vote so the plebiscite has been put off indefinitely.
Since the UN force in the area confirmed SAF’s withdrawal many of the 100,000 displaced have begun to return.
"A lot of people have come. I think every family has at least sent one or two people to come and work out how to return but there are people who still do not believe that Sudan armed forces have withdrawn from Abyei town", Kuol said.
The Ngok Dinka chief that some think the SAF withdrawal was tactical to return if the two sides failed to reach an agreement on final status of the area.
"These are all fears based on the past", Kuol said. "Things will change to the better. The Sudanese army will not return. They will leave completely. So it is time our people return now even if they come to live under trees.”
He commended United Nations Security Forces for Abyei (UNISFA) for providing protection to the returning population and encouraged them to extend increased patrols to areas outside Abyei town.
"UNISFA is doing well. They carry regular night patrols in the town. They also do the same things in areas outside Abyei town.This is actually where increased patrols need to be increased”, he said.
Kuol admitted that some returnees felt insecure due to reports that some cattle had been stolen by militia groups, which he alleged were allied to Sudanese the army.
"It is true some cattle were stolen last week on Saturday but this case has already been brought to the attention of the United Nations. They are handling it. We have told owners of the cows that the issue is being handled at the higher level," he explained.
Akonon Mathiang, another chief representing one of the clans of the Nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms under Kuol Deng Kuol said most of his members have started returning home.
"By August all family members shall have returned," said Mathiang
Luka Biong Deng, a chief representative of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit in the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, expressed optimism of reaching a settlement on status of an Abyei administration in the upcoming talks scheduled to resume on 5 July in the Ethiopian capital of Addis, Ababa.
The next round of talks, according to Biong, are expected to include, formation of the local administration, establishing an Abyei police service, funding of the administration, funding reintegration processes and demarcation of the Abyei Area based on the ruling of the July 22, 2009, by permanent Court of Arbitration.
"We are looking at how the administration should be funded. There is no reason to look up to donor community while the area itself has resources which could be used to fund some of the projects," Biong explained.