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.