Abyei is a town and district of South Kurdufan, Sudan, that is considered a historical bridge between northern and Southern Sudan. The "Protocol on the resolution of Abyei conflict" in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the Second Sudanese Civil War in 2005 defined it, in contrast to the borders of the district, as "the area of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905". [ [http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/SZIE-5ZJR4Z?OpenDocument "Protocol on the resolution of Abyei conflict"] , Government of the Republic of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, 26 May 2004 (hosted by reliefweb.int)] The failure to implement the Abyei Protocol has been cited as a key in the increase in tension between the signatories of the CPA.


From at least the eighteenth century Abyei was inhabited by Ngok Dinka, kin to the Dinka of Southern Sudan. They were bordered to the north and northeast by the lands of the Messiria, a nomadic people who grazed their cattle through Abyei in an annual cycle. Records from this time state that the Ngok Dinka and Messiria had amicable relations. At the establishment of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, the Messiria were located in the province of Kordofan (considered "northern"), while the Ngok Dinka were located in Bahr el Ghazal (considered "southern"). However, in 1905 the British redistricted the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms into Kordofan. [http://www.usip.org/pubs/usipeace_briefings/2005/1026_sudan.html "Resolving the Boundary Dispute in Sudan's Abyei Region"] by Dorina Bekoe, Kelly Campbell and Nicholas Howenstein,
United States Institute of Peace, October 2005] PDFlink| [http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/b47_sudan_abyei_web.pdf "Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock"] |456 KiB , International Crisis Group, 12 October 2007, p. 2]

The two peoples began to take separate paths with the onset of the First Sudanese Civil War (1956-1972), in particular the 1965 massacre of 72 Ngok Dinka in the Misseriya town of Babanusa. The Ngok Dinka were thus drawn to the Anyanya, while the Messiria were favored by the Khartoum-based government and became firmly associated with the north. The 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement that ended the war included a clause that provided for a referendum allowing Abyei to choose to remain in the north or join the autonomous South. This referendum was never held and continued attacks against Ngok Dinka led to the creation of Ngok Dinka unit in the small Anyanya II rebellion, which began in Upper Nile in 1975. The discovery of oil in the area, among other north-south border regions, led President Gaafar Nimeiry to try the first of many initiatives to redistrict oil rich areas into northern administration.

The Ngok Dinka unit of Anyanya II formed one of the foundations of the rebel movement at the beginning of the Second Civil War in 1983. Many Ngok Dinka joined the rebels upon the outbreak of hostilities. Partially as a result of their early entry into the war, many Ngok Dinka rose to leadership positions in the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), becoming closely associated with John Garang. In contrast, the Messiria joined the hostilities on the side of the government in the mid-1980s. They formed frontline units as well as "Murahleen", mounted raiders that attacked southern villages to loot valuables and slaves."Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock", pp. 2-3] By the end of the war the intense fighting had displaced most Ngok Dinka out of Abyei, which the Misseriya state as justification for ownership of the area.

Oil reserves and production

Abyei is situated within the Muglad Basin, a large rift basin which contains a number of hydrocarbon accumulations. Oil exploration was undertaken in Sudan in the 1970s and 1980s. A period of significant investment in Sudan's oil industry occurred in the 1990s and Abyei became a target for this investment. By 2003 Abyei contributed more than one quarter of Sudan's total crude oil output. Production volumes have since declined and reports suggest that Abyei's reserves are nearing depletion. An important oil pipeline, the Greater Nile Oil Pipeline, travels through the Abyei area from the Heglig and Unity oil fields to Port Sudan on the Red Sea via Khartoum. The pipeline is vital to Sudan's oil exports which have boomed since the pipeline commenced operation in 1999. [APS Review Downstream Trends 2007, [http://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/170592332.html 'SUDAN: The oil sector'] , "www.entrepreneur.com", 29 October. Retrieved 5 March 2008.] [USAID 2001, [http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/africa/sudan_oil_usaid_2001.pdf 'Sudan: Oil and gas concession holders' (map)] , University of Texas Library.]

The Abyei Protocol in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement

"Abyei is to hold a referendum in 2011 on whether to join South Sudan."
The status of Abyei was one of the most contentious issues in the negotiation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The first protocol signed, the 2002 Machakos Protocol, defined Southern Sudan as the area as of independence in 1956. It thus excluded the SPLA strongholds in Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, known collectively during the talks as the Three Areas. The SPLA negotiators then spent several years attempting to give these regions the right to a referendum in which they could decide if they want to be under the administrative control of the north or south. This would potentially mean that these regions would become part of a nation of South Sudan after the 2011 independence referendum. The government blocked these attempts, stating that the Machakos Protocol had already delineated the border for the Three Areas in northern favor."Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock", p. 3]

The deadlock was finally broken by pressure from the United States. U.S. presidential envoy John Danforth circulated a draft agreement, which the U.S. convinced the government to sign despite its inclusion of a referendum. The "Protocol on the resolution of Abyei conflict" put Abyei into a special administrative status government directly by the presidency. The precise borders of the area were to be determined by a Abyei Borders Commission (ABC), followed by a referendum commission to identify Messiria that are resident in Abyei and could thus vote in local elections in 2009; all the Ngok Dinka were to be considered resident, it being their traditional homeland. Almost none of the items in the protocol have been implemented."Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock", p. 4] According to an annex to the protocol adopted in December 2004 ABC was to be composed of 15 persons: five appointed by the government, five by the SPLA and three by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and one each by the United States and the United Kingdom. Only the five impartial experts could present the final report. The five appointed were: Godfrey Muriuki of the University of Nairobi; Kassahun Berhanu of the Addis Ababa University; Douglas Johnson, an author of several works on southern Sudan; Shadrack Gutto, a lawyer from South Africa; and Donald Petterson, a former ambassador to Sudan. The ABC determined the boundary at approximately 10°22’30”N., 87 km north of the town of Abyei, following the agreed rules of procedure. [ [http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article25125 "The Abyei Protocol Demystified"] , "Sudan Tribune",11 December 2007] The process and the map showing the boundary is detailed by Johnson [ [http://www.cmi.no/sudan/doc/?id=944 "Why Abyei Matters"] , "Afr ican Affairs, 107/426, 1–19",23 December 2007]

The ABC presented their report to the president on 14 July 2005, whereupon it was immediately rejected by the government, who accused the experts of using sources after 1905 in their determination of the boundaries. The death of John Garang later that month pushed all other issues off the national agenda, but the SPLA maintains that the terms of the Abyei protocol must be held to. Government resistance to an agreement is largely based on an attempt to hold onto the oil reserves and oil pipelines in the area."Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock", p. 9]

In October 2007, rising tensions between the SPLA and government resulted in the SPLA temporarily withdrawing from the Government of National Unity over several deadlocked issues, notably Abyei. [ [http://irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=74849 "SUDAN: Southern leaders in talks to salvage unity government"] , "IRIN", 18 October 2007] Some analysts note that the CPA as a whole is suffering the effects of being largely forced upon the signatories by foreign pressures. [ [http://www.nationmedia.com/eastafrican/current/News/nws2110200720.htm "CPA was doomed; none of the signatories had any conviction"] by Zachary Ochieng, "The East Africa", 20 October 2007] The International Crisis Group states, "What happens in Abyei is likely to determine whether Sudan consolidates the peace or returns to war.""Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock", p. 11]

Renewed violence since December 2007

Tension and armed violence has continued in the Abyei region during late 2007 and throughout 2008. Clashes occurred both between the SPLA and Messiria fighters and between the SPLA and government troops. The Messiria are not believed to be directly controlled by Khartoum, however analysts point out that local disputes over resources are readily manipulated by outside forces. [Kilner, D. 2008, [http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-03-10-voa49.cfm 'Clashes on Sudan's North-South border threaten peace deal'] , "Voice of America", 10 March. Retrieved on 10 March 2008.]

Conflict between SPLA and Messiria fighters

Messiria leaders have stated their objection to demarcation provisions of the CPA which they claim have a negative impact upon Messiria access to grazing lands. These grievances fed into armed clashes in December 2007, which killed at least 75 people, and further violence in February and March 2008, resulting in numerous deaths and civilian displacement. These clashes were considered by analysts to represent a serious threat to the peace process and trigger a resumption of civil war. [Wheeler, S. 2008, [http://africa.reuters.com/wire/news/usnL12831600.html 'Armed Sudanese nomads block key north-south route'] , "Reuters Africa", 12 February. Retrieved on 11 March 2008.] [IRIN 2008, [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=77072 'SUDAN: War of words after scores killed in Abyei'] , "IRIN", 3 March. Retrieved on 4 March 2008.] [BBC 2008, [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7273838.stm 'Arab nomads dead in Sudan clashes'] , "BBC News", 2 March. Retrieved on 4 March 2008.] [Shahine, A. 2008, [http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L02440386.htm 'Sudan nomads clash with ex-rebels, dozens killed'] , "Reuters AlertNet", 2 March. Retrieved on 4 March 2008.] [Sudan Tribune 2008, [http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article26451 'Fresh fighting breaks out in Sudan north-south region'] , "Sudan Tribune", 22 March. Retrieved on 22 March 2008.] [IRIN 2008, [http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=77419 'SUDAN: Rising tension in Abyei as clashes displace hundreds'] , "IRIN", 24 March. Retrieved on 25 March 2008.]

Conflict between SPLA and Sudanese government

Following the violence of February and March, the Sudanese government deployed a contingent of 200 or more soldiers to Abyei town on 31 March 2008. [Wheeler, S. 2008, [http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L02441824.htm 'Northern troops enter disputed Sudan oil town'] , "Reuters AlertNet", 2 April. Retrieved on 4 April 2008.] Armed clashes between these troops and the SPLA occurred during May 2008 resulting in dozens of deaths and the displacement of an estimated 25,000 civilians. [Al Jazeera 2008, [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/FA7E802D-FE20-47B1-93A9-928994EA9DC5.htm 'Many dead in Sudan clashes'] , "Al Jazeera English", 16 May. Retrieved on 17 May 2008.] [IRIN 2008, [http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=78258 'SUDAN: Abyei town deserted after fresh clashes'] , "IRIN", 16 May. Retrieved on 17 May 2008.] [BBC 2008, [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7409967.stm 'Fighting in disputed Sudan town'] , "BBC News", 20 May. Retrieved on 20 May 2008.] [BBC 2008, [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7418582.stm 'Tensions flare in central Sudan'] , "BBC News", 24 May. Retrieved on 26 May 2008.] Much of Abyei town was razed; analyst Roger Winter stated that "the town of Abyei has ceased to exist". [Winter, R. 2008, [http://www.enoughproject.org/reports/abyei_update_may08 'Abyei Aflame: An update from the field'] , "enough: the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity", 30 May. Retrieved on 3 August 2008.]

Moves toward peaceful resolution

In June 2008, the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, and the President of the autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, again agreed to refer the dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in order to resolve the matter of Abyei's borders. A joint military force was subsequently deployed to Abyei. In August 2008, agreement was reached regarding the appointment of an interim administration for Abyei. A southerner, Arop Moyak, was appointed head of the administration and a northerner, Rahama Abdel Rahman al-Nour, was appointed deputy head. [BBC 2008, [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7442872.stm "Sudan agreement on Abyei reached"] , "BBC News", 8 June 2008.] [BBC 2008, [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7550223.stm 'Deal agreed on Sudan oil region'] , "BBC News", 8 August. Retrieved on 9 August 2008.] [Al Jazeera 2008, [http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2008/08/200888215522809624.html 'Sudan names Abyei administrator'] , "Al Jazeera English", 9 August. Retrieved on 9 August 2008.]

Notes and references

External links

* Abraham, I. 2007, [http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article20555 'South Sudan Abyei now or never'] , "Sudan Tribune", 3 March. (Opinion piece.)
* Kristof, N. 2008, [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/opinion/02kristof.html?_r=1&oref=slogin 'Africa's next slaughter'] , "New York Times", 2 March. Retrieved on 4 March 2008. (Opinion piece concerning Abyei and the peace process.)
* UNDP 2005, PDFlink| [http://www.sd.undp.org/Presspdf/Abyei.pdf 'First Three of Eighteen Ongoing Development Projects Were Handed Over By UNDP to Abyei Communities'] |29.8 KiB , United Nations Development Program Sudan, 29 November.
* Vall, M. 2008, [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkCs2ydLMw8 'Abyei region divided over oil'] , "Al Jazeera English", 15 March. Retrieved on 27 April 2008. (Video presentation hosted by YouTube.)
* Winter, R. 2008, [http://www.enoughproject.org/reports/soundingalarmabyei 'Sounding the alarm on Abyei'] , "enough: the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity", 17 April. Retrieved on 5 May 2008.
* Winter, R. 2008, [http://www.enoughproject.org/reports/abyei_update_may08 'Abyei aflame: An update from the field'] , "enough: the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity", 30 May. Retrieved on 6 June 2008. (Describes May violence. Winter says that "the town of Abyei has ceased to exist".)

Further reading

* Douglas Johnson, 2008, "Why Abyei Matters, The Breaking Point of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement?" in African Affairs, 107 (462), pp 1-19.

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