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Preparations for a vote on Sudan's border region are stalled

While plans for South Sudan referendum move forward, preparations for a vote on Abyei, a contested border region that could join South Sudan, are making little headway.

By John Prendergast, Ashley BennerGuest bloggers / October 1, 2010

People from the Dinka tribe hold placards during a demonstration calling for the immediate formation of the Abyei oil region referendum commission and protesting against the settlement of the Massireya tribe in their area, outside the United Nations headquarters in Khartoum September 23, 2010. Sudan still has to name a commission to organise a referendum on whether the central oil-producing region of Abyei should remain in north Sudan or join the south, a vote due to take place on January 9, 2011.

Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters


With the two referenda in Sudan a little more than 100 days away, the United States has recently taken the lead and made progress on critical negotiations regarding Abyei, a highly contested region on the country’s North-South border. Direct engagement by the US is exactly what human rights and peace organizations have been asking for over the last year, to prevent renewed war and violence against civilians in Sudan. The US once again is in a position to break the logjam on Abyei, as it did during the negotiations on the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, which brought peace between the North and South after more than 20 years of war and two million deaths. When the two parties meet again early next month in Addis Ababa, we are hopeful that the administration will continue making progress toward the goal of on-time, free and fair, peaceful, and respected referenda.

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On January 9, the people of Abyei are scheduled to vote in a referendum alongside the South. As the South votes on whether or not to form their own independent country, the people of Abyei will determine who they want to join – as stipulated in the CPA. However, whereas the South Sudan Referendum Commission, which is tasked with conducting the referendum in the South, is after much delay fully staffed and has finalized voter registration forms, the mere establishment of the Abyei Referendum Commission has been held up on the issue of membership criteria. Some of the other key items holding up the referendum in Abyei are the subsequent appointment and nomination of the members and agreement on criteria for voter eligibility.

Given that January 9 is just around the corner, many people in Sudan and elsewhere are greatly concerned that the referenda will not occur as scheduled and that Abyei, in particular, and the South will erupt in violence. In 1972, a similar referendum was promised to Abyei in the peace agreement which ended the first civil war between the North and South, but was never implemented.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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