Northern Sudan has been accused of settling Arab nomadic tribes in oil-rich Abeyi region where votes are required to influence whether or not the oil-rich Abyei would belong to North or South Sudan, ahead of a January 2011 referendum.
The chief administrator of the disputed oil-rich Abyei region, Deng Arop Kuol told reporters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, that members of the Khartoum-backed Arab Misseriya tribe were moving into parts of Abyei, in order to vote in next year’s referendum that will define the status of the oil-rich region.
“The issue that is concerning the people of Abyei and troubling them very much is the issue of settlement that is taking place within the boundaries of Abyei. It is the Misseriya who are settling in those areas. The target is to settle in 20 locations in the area north of Abyei and they already started to settle in those areas now,” Kuol was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.
The oil-rich Abyei region overlaps between North and South Sudan. And the January referendum on independence in South Sudan would require residents of the oil-rich Abyei region to simultaneously vote on whether they want to belong to north or south Sudan.
“We are getting information that they intend to settle 25,000 families in those areas and the number of people will go up to 75,000 in those areas. We believe it is something organized,” Kuol said.
According to reports, Abyei’s referendum law, however, does not guarantee voting rights to the Arab Misseriya — a nomadic tribe that migrates each year to the Abyei region looking for pastures for their cattle.
Even though the settling Arab Misseriya tribe are not allowed to vote according to the referendum law, South Sudan authorities remain suspicious of their influx to Abyei, a region responsible for most of Sudan’s 500,000 barrels of oil production per day.
With an estimated six billion barrels of oil in the region, the economies of either North Sudan or an independent South Sudan would be affected by the outcome of votes in Abyei come January 2011. “The Misseriya… are in no way meant to vote in the Abyei referendum because they are not residents. They are meant to be nomads,” Kuol adds.
Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague refined the borders of Abyei, leaving the Heglig oil fileds out of the Abyei region, and both the North and South authorities had accepted the ruling.
Deadly clashes in May 2008 in Abyei had raised fears of a return to civil war between North and South Sudan. And while both authorities decided to take the matter of the sensitive border to arbitration in The Hague, a forthcoming referendum for secession is threatening the fragile peace that has existed over the oil-rich region.
With the issue of Arab Misseriya’s voting eligibility still unresolved, and the referendum commission for Abyei not yet established, because Sudan’s Northern and Southern authorities have failed to agree on who should head it, questions of a peaceful and smooth separation of Sudan remains unanswered.