(GIN)—Members of the Dinka Ngok ethnic group are returning en masse to their homes in the oil-rich Abyei region, intent on a unilateral referendum on national identity that may have explosive consequences.
The exodus began after Sudanese leaders failed to schedule an internationally-backed referendum this month. It would have allowed all Abyei citizens to choose whether to be part of Sudan or South Sudan. Juba (South Sudan) says it supports a referendum, Khartoum is opposed and favors a negotiated political settlement.
Thousands are reported to be braving rivers of mud and bumpy truck rides while spending their savings to make the trip.
Two groups, the Misseriya, semi-nomadic people of Arab origin, and the Ngok Dinka Abyei live in Abyei but the Misseriya are often out of the region, grazing cattle.
But according to South Sudan’s foreign minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, there were few if any Messeriya in Abyei Dinka Ngok territory.
“If there are any other residents, it could be some few Merreriyas, it could be some few Sudanese or few South Sudanese who could be there. But the territory is specifically for the Nile Ngok Dinka,” Benjamin said.
His claim was angrily refuted by Misseriya’s paramount chief, Mukhtar Babu Nimir, who threatened to take action, including war, if a vote was taken without their participation.
“We will not accept it,” he said of the proposed plebiscite. “We want the government of Sudan to be clear with us,” adding “if it fails, we will play our part in the liberation of our land in war and peace.”
Currently, some 4,000 Ethiopian-led UN peacekeepers patrol Abyei.
Meanwhile, a media blackout on the Abyei referendum in South Sudan has been imposed by the information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth. State-run radio and TV cannot cover or publish any announcements and mobilization campaigns in support of the proposed referendum, he said, “because some people show up at the station to talk unnecessarily.”
Category: Africa Briefs