Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abyei Displaced Make Cautious Return in Sudan

Sudan: Abyei Displaced Make 'Cautious Return' After Fleeing in 2011

By Ngor Arol Garang
23 June 2012
Sudan Tribune

People displaced from Abyei, the main region of contention between Sudan and South Sudan, are beginning a "gradual and cautious return" to the area, traditional leaders say.

In May last year, over 100,000 people were displaced when Sudan's army took control of the region after a convoy was attacked by Southern forces. The status of Abyei was due to be resolved in a referendum in January 2011 but the vote has been postponed indefinitely after the two sides have failed to agree on who is allowed to take part.

Officials and local leaders from Abyei feel neglected by the failure of the two parties to reach final settlement over the status of the area.

A UN resolution in May this year called on both sides to move their armed forces out of the region, which they both have apart from 150 Sudanese police in some strategic areas.

Since then some of the displaced have returned to the area. However, many are just visiting to decide whether to bring their families back to the region from South Sudan.

Traditional leaders told Sudan Tribune that some people, mostly youth groups and elders have started paying visits to Abyei town and areas farther north in order to obtain "first-hand information".

As well as in May 2011, Abyei's residents were also forced to flee the area in 2008, South Sudan's army - Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) - clashed with the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).

Abyei is claimed by the Dinka Ngok whoa are aligned to South Sudan, however, the Misseriya, a nomadic cattle herding group traditionally enter the region for part of the year seeking fertile land to graze their cattle.

Khartoum's insistence that the Arab Misseriya have full voting rights was one of the main reasons the plebiscite on the future of the region did not go ahead.

Unlike in 2008 the clashes last year saw almost all of Abyei's Dinka Ngok flee into South Sudan. Four years ago some fled to the Misseriya stronghold of Muglad in South Kordofan State.

The fighting in 2011, in the run-up to South Sudan's independence, saw the majority of people flee South Sudan's Warrap, Unity and Northern/Western Bahr el Ghazal State's.

Attempts by the international community to end the deadlock over status of the area and other post independence issues have so far borne little fruits, resulting in armed confrontations in April in another contested region of Panthou, which is known as Heglig in Sudan.

This confrontation prompted an invigorated international effort to resolve issues that could lead to further border conflict. The African Union Peace Security Council in May, 2012, prepared and drafted a roadmap which it presented to the Security Council of the United Nations for endorsement.

The roadmap demands immediate cessation of hostilities and asked that armed forces of the countries be deployed 10km away from the contested areas.

It also demands two countries institute a joint security committee to monitor violations and demilitarization of Safe Border Zones. The roadmap equally gives a tight time-frame, during which the two parties are expected to sort out differences. Failure to reach an agreement, the continental body says, could lead to steep sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.

Kuol Deng Kuol, paramount chief of the Nine Dinka Ngok chiefdoms told Sudan Tribune that people in Agok, in the south of the Abyei area, expressed a desire to return to their areas of origin despite prevailing humanitarian challenges.

These challenges, Kuol said, include lack of basic services in health and education, water, shelter and food which he said are available in Agok and elsewhere.

Individual family members and leaders of the displaced who spoke to Sudan Tribune in Agok last week on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17, felt it was too early for them to return, given the current conflicting reports from the two parties over withdrawal of the armed forces.

"We are holding meetings with our people to encourage [the to] start returning home. It is important they start returning because home is always best. These are places where our fore fathers and mothers have been buried," General Kuol Monyluak, acting Abyei Chief Administrator told Sudan Tribune last week in Agok.

Responding to questions asking whether they are succeeding in their campaign to persuading citizens to consider returning home, the official said the "response of our people is quite encouraging. They have started returning even though there are challenges".

Some of the interviewees said they sent people to go to Abyei town and beyond to "see the conditions for themselves" before deciding on whether or not to return as entire families. People, who fled beyond Agok to the states of Warrap, West and Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity, appear more cautious about returning, although some said they might decide to return after the current rainy season.

Sultan Arop Mathiang in an interview at Turalei, Warrap State told Sudan Tribune on Sunday 17 June that they hoped that the news back from those who travel to Abyei will clarify whether SAF have actually left the area.

The local leader said that SAF still have a presence in Noong, Kej (Diffra) and in other areas north of Abyei. Mathiang also claimed that SAF have "opened military camps for armed militia groups and they have removed uniforms and dressed themselves either as civilians or police. Some of them have started seeking jobs with international relief organisations. We are told most of those who came as soldiers, those who participated in the invasion of Abyei are also now pretending to be running business."

Khartoum has admitted keeping some police around Abyei's oil infrastructure.

A recent UN report by the Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that: 'People returning from Agok, at the southern end of the Abyei area, said that most of the people displaced last year were still hesitant about returning because of Abyei town's lack of basic health and education services, while these services are available in Agok and elsewhere.'

Community were trying to encourage them to return, they said, 'in spite of the challenges associated with lack of shelter and basic services.'

According to the UN peacekeeping force in Abyei (UNISFA) a total of 8,936 people had returned to their places of origin north of the River Kiir/Bahr el Arab by 17 June, while 1,072 had reached Abyei town.

Many returnees are reported to be working on houses, tukuls or shelters.

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