President Omer Al-Bashir of North Sudan has reiterated claims to Abyei, warning that any attempt by the new state of South Sudan to impose a unilateral reality in the hotly-contested region could potentially lead to war with the North.
Speaking to the BBC’s Hardtalk interview program broadcast on 11 July, Al-Bashir said his government had divided Sudan for the sake of peace, and that they have no intention of going back to war unless compelled to do so.
However, he warned that any attempt by South Sudan to impose a unilateral reality in the oil-producing region of Abyei may prompt the North to pick up arms against the new state, citing the example of May’s takeover of Abyei by North Sudan army in retaliation for an attack allegedly carried out by Southern troops.
South Sudan, which also claims ownership Abyei, gained full independence from the North on 9 July, having voted almost unanimously to secede in a referendum held at the start of this year. The vote was stipulated under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which established peace between the North and South after half a century of intermittent civil wars.
Abyei has been a major point of contention in the implementation of the CPA. The region’s status was supposed to be determined via a plebiscite in January 2011. However, the vote stalled as North and South Sudan failed to agree on the criteria for eligibility to vote.
North Sudan insists that members of the Arab, cattle-herding tribe of the Missiriya, who traverse the borders into Abyei few months a year to graze their cattle, should be allowed to vote while the South contends that only members of the Dinka Ngok community should vote.
Al-Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war-crimes told his interviewer Zainab Al-Badawi that Abyei remains an “integral part” of North Sudan despite an agreement his government signed with South Sudan last month to fully demilitarise the region and deploy Ethiopian peacekeepers to monitor security in the area.
The Sudanese leader confirmed that the country’s army would redeploy out of Abyei as soon as the 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers arrive in the region.
According to Al-Bashir, peacekeepers of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which was established to monitor the CPA-mandated ceasefire in Abyei, completely failed to assert security in the region.
He said that the government wants UNMIS peacekeepers to leave the country, expressing confidence that their Ethiopian substitutes are more capable and trusted by both North and South Sudan.
Under the Addis Ababa agreement on Abyei, which was facilitated by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan (AUHIP), also North and South Sudan agreed to establish a joint committee to manage Abyei after Al-Bashir dissolved the region’s administration following the army takeover.
South Sudan president Salva Kiir pledged during his speech in the independence ceremony to continue talks with North Sudan to resolve outstanding issues. North Sudan, which declared recognition of the south’s independence, pledged to do likewise.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Saturday urged North and South Sudan to return quickly to the negotiation table in order to thrash out post-independence arrangements, including the status of Abyei.