Tag Archives: jihad

South Sudan: Machar Fails To Control His Rebels

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Juba — February 25 … Crisis and violence linger in South Sudan more than two months after Riek Machar’s failed coup attempt. Fighting continue at varying levels of intensity and spread. Surges of tribal and clan clashes continue to the detriment of the civilian population caught in the crossfire. On this background the influential African think-tank “Fashoda Institute” has published analysis of the negotiations’ stalemate.

“The destruction is painful particularly to a country still at the beginning of a recovery process from a generation-long bitter and destructive independence war”, stresses Fashoda. “While rebel forces have been responsible for the majority of these clashes, government forces are not blame-free as evident by arrest of officers and soldiers who got carried away. The political process and negotiations are going nowhere. The opposition is irreconcilably divided between Machar’s camp that insists on seizing power and the former prisoners’ bloc that only wants profound reforms in Juba”.

The think-tank points out that “the main problem though is the rebels’ inability to deliver on the most basic issue – a viable cease-fire”. On the one hand, rebel leaders insist that they represent the people of South Sudan. On the other hand, the moment the AU and IGAD mediators demand cessation of hostilities as part of the start of negotiations in Addis Ababa – the same rebel leaders disavow responsibility, insist that they are not in control of the various armed factions and forces, and therefore cannot order them to cease the carnage and fighting. Simply put, if the negotiators in Addis Ababa and their bosses cannot deliver most of the fighting forces – whose leaders are they? In whose name and mandate do they negotiate?”

The Fashoda Institute’s analysis explains that “the situation is further complicated by growing pressure from the US-led West. Western officials now threaten sanctions and the withdrawal of badly needed humanitarian and financial aid. The US-led West demands reforms in governance and human rights that are out of touch with reality on the ground, but clearly endorse and reinforce the rhetoric of the Machar camp.”

“The greatest danger is the growing loss of commitment to the state among the rebels”, asserts the Fashoda Institute. “Despite the repeated claims to patriotism by Machar – there is clear evidence to the contrary. The repeated attacks on, and growing damage to, oil facilities, as well as the cycles of violence and carnage in and around Malakal, testify to this trend. If Machar really cares about his country as he insists – he should have restrained his followers and forces, and prevented damage to strategic infrastructure that serves ALL South Sudanese irrespective of who’s the leader”.

Fashoda comes to the conclusion that “the escalating violence in and around Malakal suggests that either Machar does not care about South Sudan’s vital oil infrastructure, or he is not in control of the fighting forces – which raises questions about his claim to leadership of the opposition”.

South Sudan: A Structural Turning Point

By Joe Odaby
South Sudan News

Juba — February 11 … The internationally respected African think-tank The Fashoda Institute has released a report analyzing the continuing unrest in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Mali and prescribing a change in African governance trends.

The Fashoda Institute comes to conclusion that “African states have to cope with the growing schism between the imperatives of the African modern state and the trends of the African population. Under pressure and in growing destitution, much of the African populace is returning to tribal, national, ethnic, and religious frameworks of self-identity in quest for solace, security, and shelter. This is a mega-trend which also takes place throughout Asia and even parts of Europe. In contrast, to be effective and successful in delivering security, stability, reforms, good governance, development, food and water, modern states must be tribe-blind”.

“There is an urgent imperative to formulate new checks and balances between the sub-state, state, and supra-state (regional) levels of self-identity and quests for self-determination”, asserts the think-tank. “This means the imperative for reassessment of all basic services and infrastructure, particularly security, education, energy, communications, and transportation. To be effective in the vast rural areas, all of these long-term planning and reforms must be undertaken with close attention being paid to sub-state and supra-state, or regional, identities and aspirations.”

“Ultimately, the tangible success of proposed long-term reforms and development programs depends first and foremost on the legitimization, trust, and cooperation between state authorities and the populace; both individuals and groupings”, points the Fashoda Institute.

“To succeed, states and regional bodies must be both tribe-blind in caring for all the people as equally as humanly possible, and also tribe-sensitive and -conscious in order to care and cater for heritage sensitivities and proclivities. This delicate balancing will enable the grassroots to celebrate and preserve their distinctions and self-identities while eradicating the ability of aspirant leaders to exploit real, manufactured and imaginary tribal and sectarian tensions and self-identities as the levers to rebel against the modern state and the government”.

The analysis concludes with the summary: “These challenges must be addressed at an all-African level, given the artificiality of African borders and the importance of cross-border population connections. Unfortunately the African Union has so far failed to rise to the challenge. It brings the conclusion that African states must establish small regional groupings to address these burning issues before it is too late. This is the essence of the most urgent reforms”.

South Sudan: Rebels Stole 1,700 Tons of Food From Poor

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Empty tins litter the ground at the looted compound
of an aid agency in Malakal, South Sudan.

By Joe Odaby
South Sudan News

Juba — February 6, 2014 … In its latest analytical report from the respected African think-tank The Fashoda Institute, it is pointed out that “in South Sudan the ceasefire is becoming a political nightmare. Localized fighting continues because coup leader and former Vice-President Riek Machar has no control over the rebel forces, while the administration of President Salva Kiir in Juba is under international pressure to make more and more concessions to rebels”.

The Fashoda Institute points that “liberal West’s traditional approach — that the “rebels” represent the real interests of the people while the government pursues interests of the establishment — is maintained irrespective of emerging evidence to the contrary.

This approach is being applied to Machar, the ostensibly romantic rebel, while in reality Juba has to cope with the destruction and looting of the stockpiles of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Malakal (the capital of the Upper Nile State) when it was under rebel control”.

According to UN officials, thousands of people — mainly rebel soldiers and ordinary civilians — loaded the supplies into donkey carts and trucks and took off for the bush where Machar’s forces were trying to reorganize under SPLA pressure.

The WFP estimates that 1,700 tonnes of food were stolen: long-term supplies for about 100,000 of the poorest people in South Sudan.

Concurrently, rebel forces assaulted and looted the MédecinsSans Frontièreshospital in Leer, Machar’s hometown in the southern parts of Unity State. This hospital treats both the local population and refugees from across the Sudanese border. Consequently, most of the staff and ambulatory patients fled the hospital. Only about 30 staff members remained, trying to care for severely ill patients in the nearby bush. Until the rebel attack, the Leer hospital was the only functioning hospital in Unity State.

On February 2, 2014, SPLA forces returned to Leer and restored order.

Throughout South Sudan food shortages are growing because rebel ambushes and raids make food distribution by international aid organizations impossible.

Will US Clash With China in Africa?

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When will China and US face off in Africa?

By Peter Benjamin
South Sudan News

Juba — January 30 … Influential African think-tank The Fashoda Institute has published an analysis of foreign policy strategies of the United States and China in Africa. The think-tank points at the “evolution in the People’s Republic of China’s attitude toward, and commitment to, Africa.

The rôle of sub-Saharan Africa is evolving from just an economic resource for China into a Chinese strategic lever against the US-led West. The Chinese have long been investing heavily in Africa as the key long-term source for energy, ores, rare earths, and other raw materials for their industrial growth”.

The Fashoda Institute asserts that “recently, the PRC has been expanding its operations into sponsoring the creation of a secondary industrial base in Africa itself in order to better support their economic undertakings. Beijing is now also looking to Africa as a prime instrument for preventing, or at the least controlling, the flow of resources to the West. The PRC is worried because the PRC leadership perceives that the US is desperate to revive its sagging economy and disappearing industrial base while discussing an explicitly anti-Chinese pivot to East Asia”.

“The Chinese are also apprehensive that Europe is embarking on reindustrialization and thus might lessen its dependence on Chinese imports and the trans-Asian venues of transportation — the new Silk Road — and their strategic value”, notes the analysis. “It is in such a grand strategic context that Beijing is studying US-led Western activities in Africa and, not without reason, is becoming increasingly apprehensive about them. That is why Beijing is now determined to capitalize on the PRC’s preeminence in Africa in order to pressure, if not extort, the West. The margin for error under these conditions is extremely narrow”.

The Fashoda Institute warns that “America’s “humanitarian interventionism” in sub-Saharan Africa is markedly increasing tensions and exacerbating conflicts all around. The specter of current and future US- and French-led military interventions and the ensuing toppling of leaders and governments is sending both African leaders and aspirant strongmen to posture for better positions in case the US and France intervened in their states and regions. Desperate to increase their military capabilities, they make Faustian deals with any anti-Western power they can reach out to, be it China or Iran. Hence, there exists a growing possibility that US-Chinese tension will also spark a clash in explosive Africa”.

The analysis ends with a troubling prognosis: “Where the next eruption in Africa will lead is anybody’s guess.

In a recent Brookings Essay entitled “The Rhyme of History: Lessons of the Great War”, Professor Margaret MacMillan warned of the growing and disquieting similarities between the world of Summer 1914 and the world of early 2014. “It is tempting — and sobering — to compare today’s relationship between China and the US with that between Germany and England a century ago,” Professor MacMillan writes. She also points to the prevailing belief — then as now — that a full-scale war between the major powers is unthinkable after such a prolonged period of peace.

“Now, as then, the march of globalization has lulled us into a false sense of safety,” Professor MacMillan writes. “The 100th anniversary of 1914 should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident.”

Obama’s “Humanitarian Interventionism” in Africa is Exacerbating Conflicts

By Joe Odaby

Juba — January 25, 2014 … The respected African think-tank The Fashoda Institute has published an analysis of the root causes of the current turmoil in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. It blames US-led Western interventionism which is focused on “feel-good, instant-gratification” in the Western media while having access to African riches as its primary objective.

Fashoda analyses the pattern of the US demands made of the local governments and leaders, naming the constant three: “Cease hostilities immediately and at all cost. This effectively rewards those who provoked and unleashed the hostilities and those who use civilians as human shields; Immediately implement Western-style democratic reforms, human rights, and swift elections. This undermines local governments, rooted in local customs and practices, and prevents them from addressing the real crises; and Establish weak governments totally dependent on Western patronage and protection for survival –both  for security and economically — and  then extort them for access to local riches”.

Fashoda notes that “these interventions continue as if the recent West-orchestrated “regime changes” in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria (attempted), and even Mali worked or benefitted the public at large. Undaunted, the US and France continue to lead the West in self-destruct policies in sub-Saharan Africa because of blatant disregard of the facts and realities on the ground while pursuing feel-good, instant-gratification interventionism”.

“The coup in South Sudan would not have happened without the conviction of the Riek Machar camp that they had the support and endorsement of the US-led West”, asserts the analysis. “In Autumn 2013, the Obama White House all but encouraged Machar to rebel, warmly endorsed Machar’s rhetoric about reforms and human rights, arranged for supporting coverage in the Western liberal media, and harshly criticized Pres. Kiir’s actions and record. Private foundations, mostly very close to the Obama coterie, were urged to funnel funds to Machar. Thus, the Obama White House and the liberal foci of power in the West created the impression of support and endorsement should Machar seize power.”

“Obama’s continues to threaten President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his government with sanctions and cutting of aid in order to coerce Juba into giving Machar victory in a failed coup rejected by the vast majority of South Sudanese”, notes the think-tank.

“Significantly, the US position stands in stark contrast with both all African states and all other Western powers, all of which rejected the coup and have supported the restoration of state authority in Juba.“

The grassroots Nuer population from Bor to Bentiu refused to cooperate with the coup attempt. The main Nuer communities demonstrated by action that they preferred Kiir’s tribe-blind nation-building to Machar’s sectarian benefits. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) — including both Nuer troops and senior officers — remained loyal to the State and carried out successful operations against the rebel forces.

“The Obama Administration’s distinct — and failed — intervention on the side of a power-hungry Machar and its willingness to derail the tribe-blind nation building effort in South Sudan will not be forgotten or ignored not only by virtually all South Sudanese, nor by the bulk of sub-Saharan African leaders and peoples who dread the reawakening of the tribal-secessionist ghosts”, concludes the Fashoda Institute.

South Sudan: George Clooney’s Sentinel Project Exposes Machar’s Atrocities

By Joe Odaby
South Sudan News

Juba — January 22 … In Adis-Ababa, Ethiopia, negotiations between the South Sudanese Government led by President Kiir and  representatives of the rebel forces of Riek Machar continue without a breakthrough. Machar’s camp refused to negotiate the only issue of importance to the South Sudanese delegation – a cease-fire that will stop the suffering of, and casualties among, innocent civilians.

Influential think-tank The Fashoda Institute has commented that civilians are kept “hostage” to Machar’s “power hungry demands from Juba”.

Meanwhile the use of child soldiers by Riek Machar in his so called “White Army” has caused international condemnation and a stern letter from UK legislators. Satellite imagery collected by George Clooney’s Sentinel Project clearly show the massive destruction in Bor inflicted when Machar’s forces were present in Bor and that the buildings and shacks were destroyed by people and vehicles on the ground rather than government’s artillery fire (no craters and signs of fire). UN photographs taken on the ground confirm the senseless destruction by Machar’s rampaging forces.

Meanwhile, regional governments were increasingly petrified by the possibility that tribes and other sectors in their own states be inspired or assisted by Machar’s coup attempt. Most directly threatened and thus ready to act is Uganda. Ugandan involvement was a result of Kampala’s apprehension about the dire impact that certain developments in South Sudan might have on the national security and stability inside Uganda. Kampala acknowledged that Ugandan “army has marched into South Sudan” in order to “protect Uganda’s own security and economic interests.”

Other IGAD leaders keep urging the rebels in South Sudan to put down arms and engage in a dialogue with President Kiir. “Machar’s coup attempt – futile and doomed as it might have been – reminded all African leaders of the looming threats to the African political system”, notes the Fashoda Institute. “

Perhaps, a blessing in disguise of the Machar coup attempt will be a reminder to all African leaders and government of the urgent imperative to focus on tribe-blind state building and development reforms for the future”.

 

South Sudan President Kiir’s Christmas Message – End Tribal Violence

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South Sudan President Kiir’s Christmas Message – End Tribal Violence

By Christine Walters
South Sudan News

Juba, South Sudan — December 26 … South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit issued a Christmas call for the immediate restoration of peace on an official Twitter social media account of South Sudan’s government: “Innocent people have been wantonly killed. People are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation. This is unacceptable,” announced the President. “These atrocities recurring have to cease immediately.”

VIDEO: Christmas And New Year Message From South Sudan President Kiir

President Kiir, a devout Catholic, has attended the Christmas mass in Juba, the capital of  war-torn South Sudan staying at the service shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of refugees seeking protection in the church.

The compound of the Catholic cathedral of Juba has been transformed into a refugee camp in the past week. Close to 7,000 people have found shelter there from tribal violence, which began with an attempted coup by Riek Machar, former Vice President, on 15 December and has since spread to half of South Sudan forcing up to 80,000 civilians to flee their homes.

“The current crisis in South Sudan cannot be comprehended in isolation from the country’s tormented past and challenging current posture. South Sudan has been trying hard to build a nation and a state after the debilitating war of independence, autonomy period, and the post-independence austerity period (caused by Sudan’s blocking of oil exports until very recently). It is a mighty challenge given the diversity of the population and the gravity of the situation”, wrote in its analytical report an influential African think-tank The Fashoda Institute.

“President Kiir was doing as great a job as can be expected under such horrific conditions. For several months now, Machar has tried to further the self-interests of his Nuer tribe by undermining the nation-building effort of the Kiir administration, and by reawakening the sectarian-tribal tensions”, opined the analysis.

“When Machar was rejected by the South Sudan government and Party establishments – he launched the revolt that is now tearing the nation apart along tribal-national lines. Reik Machar must not be rewarded for awakening and capitalizing on sectarian-tribal hostilities and enmities (as he did in the 1990s and caused several Nuer massacres of Dinka). The South Sudan government should be helped to restore stability and unity in the country, and then should be helped to improve both good governance and the economy”, concludes The Fashoda Institute.

South Sudan: President Kiir Calls for Regional Stability Amid CAR Crisis

By Joe Odaby
South Sudan News

Juba, South Sudan — December 16 … The Fashoda Institute, a highly respected South Sudanese think-tank, has asserted in its latest analysis that the French-led Operation Sangaris in Central Africa is driven by the French desire for uranium ores and that “Paris is focusing on the uranium deposits in the Bakouma sub-prefecture of the Mbomou prefecture, in south-eastern CAR.

The primary sources of France’s uranium in southern Algeria and northern Mali and Niger are increasingly threatened by jihadist terrorism and sabotage, the endemic kidnapping of engineers and technicians, the scaring away of local miners and workers, as well as the destruction of facilities and support infrastructure. Hence, Hollande’s Paris decided to fully control and develop the alternate resources in the CAR. “

“A coalition led by Michel Djotodia had seized power in Bangui on March 24, 2013, and overthrew France’s stalwart puppet, President François Bozizé”, writes Fashoda. “Paris panicked. Initially, Djotodia seemed to be an ally of Iran and Sudan. However, in Summer 2013, Djotodia emerged as his own man.

Paris argued that power must be returned to the CAR’s legal president, Bozizé. However, Bozizé is an ex-general who also seized power in a military coup on March 15, 2003, when his forces captured Bangui and overthrew then-President Ange-Felix Patasse, who was out of the country.

Early December 2013, on the eve of the French-led intervention, saw a sudden marked escalation in the fighting in Bangui. Until then, the entire Bangui area had been completely quiet and stable for a few months. Anti-Djotodia forces launched a concentrated effort to turn incitement into fratricidal violence. The main instruments were well-armed vigilante militias that arrived in Bangui from neighboring states and pro-Bozizé regions.”

The Juba-based think-tank opines that “the French-led forces neither address the deep-rooted indigenous causes for the fratricidal violence, nor destroy the main forces threatening local stability. The French will stay and patrol for a few months, and then abandon the area to the hapless — ill-trained and ill-equipped African forces — who will prove incapable of meeting the challenges, and unwilling to try. The escalating jihadist and tribal-secessionist violence in Mali and Niger already attests to this. The CAR will not be different.

Ultimately, the fratricidal violence against civilians in the CAR is a mere excuse for Paris to intervene and impose its political will over Bangui. President Hollande has been very clear as to the real objective of the Paris in Operation Sangaris: to topple the Djotodia Administration and restore a French-dominated government. Hollande stated his objective explicitly. “We can’t leave in place a president who hasn’t been able to do anything, who let things happen,” Hollande said on Djotodia’s fate. As for the humanitarian concerns, had France, the US, and the rest of the international community, been genuinely committed to the alleviation of genocidal violence against civilians, there were worse carnages and genocides in Sudan’s Darfour and South Kordofan, as well as the multitude of vicious conflicts throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo, to which they could have turned their attention”.

President Hollande has announced that France would support “the creation of a rapid reaction force controlled by the African Union”. He declared that France would provide training for 20,000 African troops for five years, as well as the commanders and professional echelons until such time Francophone African armies have their own qualified cadres. The African leaders understood that Hollande means the creation of a French-controlled rapid intervention force for future unilateral interventions and “regime changes” where and when Paris deem French interests to be threatened.

“The blatant cynical move by France in Operation Sangaris sends shivers throughout the entire sub-Saharan Africa”, states the Fashoda Institute’s analysis. “The reawakening, exploitation, and exacerbation of indigenous crises and enmities in order to create excuses for the French-led intervention know no borders. The conflicts and the fratricidal violence they reawaken and engender spread among cross-border ethnic and tribal groupings over vast areas. African governments are already too stretched thinly and are too economically-burdened to be able to meet the new challenges. Urgently-needed development programs are postponed in order to restore stability in areas long-pacified in reaction to the new waves of exacerbation originating in French provocations.

African leaders increasingly focus on regional development in the context of regional cooperation, thus enabling even poor countries to implement major programs together while jointly reducing threats of spreading cross-border violence and instability. South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit is the most eloquent and visionary proponent of this vision.

President Kiir argues that the overall situation in Africa is unique and extremely complex. The myriad of crises and fratricidal violence are rooted in Africa’s unique history, tapestry of tribes and nations, and unfulfilled decolonization process. Western attention to African crises is selective and frequently at variance with Africa’s own priorities. Most foreign military interventions proved to be counterproductive and detrimental to African interests. Therefore, it was imperative, he felt, for Africans to formulate African solutions for Africa’s problems”.

The Fashoda Institute’s analysis concludes with assertion that “fighting and instability throughout Africa are manifestations of deep-rooted, endemic and indigenous problems. Just fighting the multitude of armed groups would not solve the root-causes of the fratricidal violence. Eliminating armed gangs should take place in the context of launching long-term development, self-empowerment, and good governance programs for the grassroots populace, thus addressing grievances and integrating the zones of crisis into the stable states.

President Kiir believes that only comprehensive modernization of all aspects of society and economy by the Africans themselves would guarantee the long-term stability and prosperity of Africa”.

South Sudan: Khartoum To Invade Abyei As Referendum Favors Union With Juba

By Joe Odaby
South Sudan News

Juba, South Sudan — November 14, 2013 (SSN) … The Ngok Dinka people of the Abyei, a disputed region between Sudan and South Sudan, held their own informal referendum as a desperate cry to the international community to save a people under threat of genocide.

The organizers of the referendum announced on October 31, 2013, that virtually all Ngok Dinka voted to join South Sudan. The Dinka tribe played a key role in South Sudan’s generation-long liberation war: one of the opening clashes in South Sudan’s liberation war was the 1965 massacre of 72 Dinka Ngok by Misseriya tribesmen in the Abyei town of Babanusa.

The semi-nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe boycotted the referendum and promised not to recognize it. The home grounds of the Misseriya tribe are in the deserts of central Sudan and the tribe traditionally move down to the Abyei area, as well as other areas along the Sudan-South Sudan border in quest for grazing for their cattle as well as black slaves for the urban markets in northern Sudan.

Khartoum has announced that it would not recognize the unilateral referendum.

As the Fashoda Institute think-tank points in its analysis, Sudan is determined to hold onto Abyei in order to secure the vast oil reserves underneath: “all the more so as the economic collapse of Sudan is evolving into major popular riots which threaten the very existence of the Khartoum Government”.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir invited President Bashir to Juba on October 22, 2013, for an emergency summit on the future of Abyei. Following the summit, senior Sudanese officials reiterated Khartoum’s commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Abyei crisis in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement CPA of 2005 as subsequently supplemented by the African Union High Level Implementation Panel.

However, “developments on the ground contradict Khartoum’s assertion of a commitment to a legal and peaceful resolution of the crisis over Abyei”, as the Fashoda’s report has pointed out this week. In early October 2013, the Sudanese Army and Air Force have intensified the build-up of forces in the south of Sudan: mainly Kordofan and Blue Nile States. The Army deployed heavy battalions and regiments equipped with tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and artillery. Smaller units — mainly company-level — deployed all the way to the border with South Sudan.

The Air Force deployed to the El-Obeid area strike aircraft — Su-24s and A-5Qs — as well as Mi-24/Mi-35 & Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopters. All the forces and weapons detected are optimized for offensive operations.

Fashoda’s experts agree that “all evidence points to Khartoum’s intent to increase military pressure on Juba in order to force Juba to compromise over Abyei. But a lot of things can go wrong with Sudanese patrols aggressively probing and shooting along the border”.

“All of these activities can be considered harbingers for the possibility of Bashir’s Khartoum electing to provoke a major crisis over Abyei as a way of both avoiding tackling the Abyei crisis while mobilizing Sudan’s own restive population — particularly the Islamists — into supporting and joining a jihad against South Sudan rather than riot against the Bashir Government”, writes the Fashoda Institute.

“Several opposition leaders — including former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi and Hassan al-Turabi — promised to endorse and support any armed undertakings aimed to not only secure Abyei but also “reunite Sudan” (that is, occupy South Sudan). This is a temptation the besieged Bashir cannot ignore. Hence the growing Sudanese bellicosity along the border. The distance between provocations and an unintended war is very small and perilously vague.”

South Sudan: Abyei Region Votes To Leave Islamist North, Join Christian South

By Dr. Richard Williams

Juba, South Sudan — October 29, 2013 (SSN) … The official results will be announced on October 31, but the observers claim that about 65,000 eligible voters, residents in the remote and disputed Abyei region on border between Sudan and South Sudan, voted almost unanimously on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in a non-binding referendum in favor of secession from Sudan and joining South Sudan.

The vote came despite fears it could trigger violence.

The ownership of Abyei was left undecided when the predominantly Christian South Sudan declared independence from the predominantly Muslim Sudan in 2011 after decades of a bloody independence war, and an official referendum on the  status of the disputed Abyei has been stalled by arguments over who can vote, prompting the local referendum initiative.

The chairman of the referendum commission told Reuters that he expected a unanimous vote in favor of joining South Sudan – a decision sure to antagonize heavily armed, pro-Sudan Misseriya nomads who do not reside in the region but customarily drive their livestock through the region.

The Arab nomads are backed by the Islamist government of Khartoum led by President Omar al-Bashir indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity, in particular the genocide in Darfur.

“Our impression is the turnout is high. On Sunday, the first polling day, the main station recorded that 75 per cent had already cast their vote,” the commission chairman, Monyluak Kuol, told Reuters.

The result, expected on October 31, is not legally binding and both Sudan and South Sudan have said they will not recognize it, but the vote is important for the majority in Abyei who identify ethnically, culturally and religiously with the South.

Dinka Ngok people from South Sudan and even from as far away as Australia have returned to take part in the vote.

The United Nations has a 4,000-strong, mainly Ethiopian peacekeeping force deployed to monitor tensions between the nomads and residents in the region, which has substantial oil reserves and has seen several clashes between Sudanese and South Sudanese troops.

In Abyei town, many buildings are still without roofs and many families live in a makeshift tent city, a legacy of the past fighting.

Abyei’s senior Roman Catholic priest Father Carlos Kaw said the local people had been traumatized by repeated attacks by Sudanese-backed militias and felt the world had forgotten them. “Abyei is fed up with waiting,” he told Reuters.