Five years after the signing of a peace agreement that officially ended the Second Sudanese Civil War, tensions persist in Abyei. Violent clashes and increasingly strained relations between the area's two major ethnic groups, the Missiriya and the Dinka, have underscored the extreme fragility of the peace. Although the July 2009 ruling of the International Court of Arbitration on the Abyei boundaries was welcomed by both the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which leads the Government of Southern Sudan, the situation on the ground required serious peace building efforts at the local level between the two major tribes to clear misconceptions and avoid further inter-tribal conflict.
Recognizing the extreme importance of peace talks at this crucial juncture, UNDP - in partnership with the UN Mission in Sudan and the Abyei Area Administration - has brought together the political leaders from Misseriya and Dinka Ngok in the oil-rich Abyei region for the first time in the conflict's history to meet and discuss issues pertaining to border security, arms control, migration and peaceful coexistence. The leaders each represent one of the two tribes.
"Peaceful coexistence is not a matter of choice but is a prerequisite for the continued existence of the two communities because the Missiriya and the Dinka will always remain neighbors irrespective of the 2011 referendum results," said Amir Kwol Arop Kwol, Paramount Chief of the Dinka Ngok tribe, referring to the scheduled referenda on the future of Southern Sudan, and on whether the people of Abyei will choose to be part of the North or the South.
The dialogues brought together over 2,000 participants from the two tribes, including women and youth, in order to discuss in an open and transparent manner ongoing tensions over issues including a disputed line of demarcation, , reconciliation, Sudan's arms policies and security concerns during migration seasons. The session focused especially on building bridges of trust between the two communities, and it quickly cleared up a number of misunderstandings and a general sense of mistrust that has clouded relations between the two groups.
One of these misconceptions included a rumored wall that many Missiriya believed that the Dinka intended to build, a barrier that would prevent them from herding their cattle between pastures and water.
"We will rather die than allow that to happen" said a representative of the Missiriya tribe at the start of the reconciliation meeting. The dialogue cleared up any misunderstanding, explaining that the ruling stipulates administrative boundaries and not the setting up of physical barriers.
"I really appreciate the initiative," said Arop Ayuel Wuol, a Dinka village elder from the village of Rumamir. "In the past, efforts at conflict resolution and peaceful coexistence have often failed because peace building efforts were concentrated at the leadership's levels of both communities. Most times, the resolutions agreed upon by both parties did not filter down to the communities."
Perhaps most importantly, for the first time in the history of the peace building and reconciliation activities in the area, women took an active part in the discussions and were able to provide feedback on the direct effects of the conflict on the lives of women. Indeed, UNDP believes that only through the support to community reconciliation dialogues in Sudan that bring together women groups, youth and traditional leaders will the region be able to ensure its hard-won peace.
"Women bear the heaviest burden during conflict situations," said Nyancuk Truk, a woman representative of the Dinka tribe in the village of Rumamir. "We not only lose our sons and husbands in the fighting but we also lose our dignity. Hence, we are calling upon our fellow Missiriya women to join us in our efforts to sustain peace in the area."