AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Thursday 29 November 2012
Last update 29 November 2012 12:40 am
KHARTOUM: About 100 protesters rallied in Khartoum yesterday proclaiming the flashpoint Abyei region Sudanese territory, ahead of a deadline for Sudan and South Sudan to settle the area’s status.
“Abyei 100 percent north Sudanese,” said one banner carried by the group.
“Abyei belongs to Misseriya through the gun,” they shouted, referring to the nomadic Arab Misseriya who regularly graze their animals and move through Abyei where the Dinka tribe have traditionally lived. Dinka are one of the dominant groups in South Sudan.
Oil-producing Abyei was to hold a referendum in January 2011 on whether it belonged with the north or South, but disagreement on who could vote stalled the ballot.
The African Union set a deadline of Dec. 5 for the two countries to resolve Abyei’s final status or be bound by an AU proposal for a referendum in October next year.
That proposal was mediated by an AU panel led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. It gives Dinka the right to vote along with Sudanese with “permanent abode” in the Abyei area.
“Down with the Mbeki proposal,” the protesters shouted after moving to the AU’s Khartoum office, where they delivered a written complaint.
Sudanese riot police made no attempt to disrupt the protest, in contrast with their response to anti-government demonstrations which are normally met with tear gas.
Sudan’s President Omar Bashir has vowed that “all Misseriya will participate in the Abyei referendum.”
Sudanese troops withdrew from Abyei in May to end a year-long occupation that sent more than 100,000 people fleeing towards South Sudan. The area is now controlled by United Nations peacekeepers from Ethiopia.
Earlier this month the peacekeepers shot dead a Dinka who was among a group of youths who harassed Misseriya leaders visiting the town, a witness said.
When peacekeepers intervened, two Dinka tried to seize their weapons, leading to the shooting, the witness said.
The final status of Abyei was the most sensitive matter left unresolved when South Sudan separated last year under a peace agreement that ended 23 years of civil war.