South Sudan officials reject government Abyei plan

Published on Friday 30th May 2008

Khartoum: Southern Sudanese officials on Saturday dismissed Khartoum's proposal for a joint north-south administration in oil-rich Abyei as a publicity stunt that would not resolve tension in the flashpoint town.


Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Friday his government had suggested shared control over Abyei, where fighting erupted between northern and southern forces in mid-May and prompted fears of a return to civil war.

"It is just a public relations statement that doesn't address the actual situation in Abyei," Yasir Arman, deputy secretary general of the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), said.

"There is no agreement on borders until now to base the administration on," he told Reuters.

Abyei has been a main point of contention for Khartoum and the SPLM since the former foes signed a 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of civil war fought along ethnic, religious and ideological lines and complicated by oil.

Three years after the peace accord the sides have still not agreed on borders or put in place a local government for Abyei, which will choose to join the north or south in 2011, when the entire south will vote on secession.

The uncertainty and a heavy military presence on both sides has raised tensions in the region which have flared up into violence with civilians caught in the crossfire.

Tens of thousands of people fled Abyei during the recent violence, some of the worst since the peace agreement.

U.S. special envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson toured the area on Friday, where more than 20 northern soldiers and an unknown number of southerners were killed, and described it as a scene of "scorched earth" devastation.

State news agency SUNA said Southern President Salva Kiir and Sudan's Vice President Ali Osman Taha were discussing the idea of a shared administration.

But SUNA gave no more details about the government plan for the disputed central town, which is close to oilfields that produce up to half of Sudan's 500,000-barrel daily output.

Anne Itto, the head of the SPLM southern sector, said there were more pressing humanitarian and security issues than the administration of the town that needed to be solved, and help was needed for thousands of displaced who were without food and shelter after their houses were burned.

"We need to see the Brigade 31 redeployed out," she said, referring to a northern army brigade. "The numbers of the U.N. (peacekeepers) are not enough. They do not have enough equipment to deal with the situation."

"The administration issue is nothing new," she added.

Williamson said he wanted to hear more about the Bashir government's proposal for the administration of Abyei.

But he also stressed that what was needed now for Abyei was for stability to take hold. He said he thought an "interpositional" force was needed to prevent more violence, and that he would bring that up in talks with Khartoum.

Thousands of United Nations peacekeepers are already in south Sudan, and have a compound at Abyei.

South Sudan's Minister for Presidential Affairs Luka Biong said an Abyei administration containing both SPLM and Bashir's ruling National Congress Party had already been decided on in crisis talks last year.

"We already agreed the chief administrator would be SPLM and the deputy NCP," Biong said.