Resolve Abyei crisis peacefully, Troika ministers tell Sudan’s ruling parties

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JUBA 8, 2011 (JUBA) - The conflict in Sudan’s oil-producing region of Abyei should be peacefully resolved to avoid situations likely to drag the country back to war, development ministers from Norway, United Kingdom and the United States have advised.

The trio of Erik Solheim, Norway’s minister for environment and international development, Andrew Mitchell, the UK secretary of state for international development and Rajiv Shah, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator jointly made these remarks at a press briefing held shortly after meeting South Sudan leader, Salva Kiir in the regional capital, Juba.

Over the years, the US, Norway and the UK, better known as the Troika countries, have been credited for their longstanding humanitarian and development partnership with Sudan. They played key roles in brokering the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended over two decades of war between north and south.

Specifically, the three ministers, in a joint statement urged the ruling parties of north and south Sudan to ensure that outstanding issues from the CPA like the conduct of a self determination in the Abyei border region and the demarcation of the north-south border are peacefully resolved before the July 9 declaration of South Sudan’s independence.

In principle, the trio fully committed themselves towards supporting the Thabo Mbeki-led AU High Level Implementation Panel on Sudan (AUHIP), but openly appealed to the parties involved in the negotiations to ensure that consensus is reached without delays.

On his part, the USAID administrator acknowledged South Sudan’s able leadership under Kiir, saying the US government will continue providing the necessary support that will benefit the soon-to-be-independent country. He cited capacity building needs, private sector development through agriculture and improving good governance and rule of law as some of the key areas that may require immediate intervention.

Meanwhile, a high level donor conference, according to Shah, is due to take place in September, during which participating nations - including South Sudan - will be required to present their respective country’s key priorities for funding.

Last month, a report released by the Enough Project described Abyei as “Sudan’s West Bank”, arguing that the escalating levels of violence in oil region threatens prospects for peace in the south, ahead of the region’s long-awaited independence.

According to the report authored Douglas H. Johnson, a member of the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC), the persistent violence in the region includes the “deliberate burning of villages by northern-aligned forces” and massive displacement of thousands of people. Such actions derails hopes for peace in the region the report said.

According Johnson’s report, the Abyei Protocol of the CPA, which was meant to resolve the dispute in the area, still remains in jeopardy, as fighting continues in the disputed oil-producing region.

“Failure to implement the intent of the Abyei Protocol in both letter and spirit has implications for the uncompleted Popular Consultation processes in the sensitive border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan,” the report says.

Abyei was due to hold a referendum in January to determine whether the country would join the south or remain on the north of the border. The South’s plebiscite on independence went ahead on schedule – with a massive vote for secession – while Abyei’s did not due to a dispute over who was allowed to vote.

In recent months, fighting in the Abyei area, involving Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and allied militias allegedly linked to the Khartoum regime have reportedly displaced over 20,000 people. Officials from the south-ruling party have repeatedly blamed such incidences on the Khartoum regime’s “lack of commitment” to the full implementation of the 2005 CPA.

“These waves of instabilities in the south, especially in Abyei and other parts of the region clearly demonstrate Khartoum’s willingness to continue limited warfare against the southern government and its army,” Pagan Amum, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) recently told journalists.

But to ensure full implementation of the Abyei referendum and other outstanding CPA issues, he openly appealed to the U.S. government to affirm its commitment towards finding an ideal solution to the problems in the disputed oil-producing region.

Last week new clashes erupted in the contested region between the north Sudan forces in the JIUs and local police from southern Sudan. The fight resulted in the death of 14 soldiers from both sides and both sides accusing the other of starting the violence.

In the last few days both the UN and African Union have called on the north and south to resolve the impasse over Abyei. Failure to do so, analyst say, could result in a return to conflict.