Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock
12 Oct 2007
The SPLM decision on 11 October to suspend its participation in the Government of National Unity demonstrates the urgent need for the international community to re-engage on implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) lest Sudan’s North-South war resume.
Mounting tensions in the oil-rich Abyei region are the most dangerous threat to reignite that war, as the latest report from the International Crisis Group, Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock,* demonstrates. It examines the dispute over Abyei, the most volatile aspect of the CPA, the deal that ended the country’s twenty-year civil war in which over two million people died. The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) is violating the CPA by refusing the “final and binding” ruling of the Abyei Boundary Commission, leaving an administrative and political vacuum.
Negotiations with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement are stalled, and both sides are building up their military forces around Abyei. To protect Sudan’s fragile peace, implementation of the CPA’s Abyei Protocol needs to be top of the agenda.
“The international community has to re-engage across the board on CPA implementation but nowhere more urgently than Abyei, where the risk of a return to war is rising dramatically,” says David Mozersky, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director.
Abyei is geographically, ethnically and politically caught between northern and southern Sudan. The CPA granted the disputed territory, which has a significant percentage of Sudan’s oil reserves, a special administrative status and a 2011 referendum to decide whether to join what might then be an independent South. The sequencing of implementation was clearly set out in the Abyei Protocol, beginning with border demarcation. However, the situation continues to fester, mainly due to NCP intransigence.
The risk of renewed conflict must be addressed on both national and local levels. The CPA’s guarantors, led by the U.S., must send a strong, coordinated message to the NCP that it is legally bound by the Boundary Commission report and expected to implement it. To reduce the risk of conflict, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) should work with the parties to establish a demilitarised zone in Abyei. Space for dialogue between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities must also be created to build much needed trust.
Oil plays a strong role in the impasse. The parties need to open a new dialogue on oil issues, including a plan to establish a revenue sharing agreement between North and South beyond 2011, for the contingency that Abyei votes to join an independent South.
“What happens in Abyei is likely to determine whether Sudan consolidates the peace or returns to war”, says François Grignon, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “Progress there would unlock a broader set of problems challenging CPA implementation, just as renewed violence would likely break the CPA - with tragic consequences”.