Sudan parliament adopts Abyei referendum law amid Messeriya protest

By James Gatdet Dak

December 30, 2009 (ST)

The Sudan’s National Assembly has endorsed the long awaited Abyei referendum law one day after the passing of a similar law on Southern Sudan referendum by the legislature.

Both laws pave the way for January 2011 respective referenda exercises on possible creation of independent country in the South while Abyei choosing between remaining in the North and joining the South.

The parliament on Wednesday passed the law amid protest from the representatives of the Messeriya tribe, which described the law as a “conspiracy” against their ethnic group.

The Messeriya bloc in the National Assembly walked out of parliament before the endorsement of the bill, arguing that the tribe was not mentioned by name in the law to vote in the Abyei referendum.

Babo Nimir, a member of the Messeriya tribe in the parliament expressed his tribe’s anger by the parliament’s refusal to consider their demand that the name of Messeriya be mentioned alongside the Dinka-Ngok tribe and also to have the right to vote in the referendum.

“What happened in the parliament today is a conspiracy against the Messeriya because they didn’t even mention the Messeriya equally with their brothers Dinka Ngok. When we told them that please you have to put the Messeriya as you put Dinka Ngok, they refused this…that means the Messeriya are pastoralists; they come for grazing and they go back like this,” he lamented.

The National Congress Party (NCP) bloc in the National Assembly, however, defended the endorsement of the Abyei referendum law without amendment to include the Messeriya, arguing that it would not be amended because it had to abide by the ruling on Abyei in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague this year.

The ruling in The Hague defined the boundaries of Abyei territory and confirmed that it belonged to the nine Ngok-Dinka chiefdoms.

A member of the NCP bloc, Ismael Haj Musa, further explained that the passing of the laws shows his party’s commitment to implementation of the CPA.

The Government of Southern Sudan welcomed the passing of the Abyei referendum bill, saying it is a great achievement in the implementation of the 2005 peace deal.

Dr. Luka Biong Deng, minister for Presidential Affairs in the semi-autonomous government said the endorsement of the law was advancement in the CPA implementation.

He however added that the next challenging phase would be the practical implementation of the laws on the ground.

Also Thousands from Abyei town flocked the streets of Abyei this evening celebrating passage of their referendum bill without loggerheads.

Addressing the rally in Abyei town, SPLM Secretary Chol Changath congratulated citizens of Abyei and their supporters for having made their sufferings known to the world.

"The world has done her best and that it is you to do your part at the referendum, either to accept return to the suffering or vote for total freedom," he said.

A commission for Southern Sudan referendum and another one for Abyei referendum would then be formed now that the laws have been passed to implement the process leading to the practical conduct of the referenda.

On another outstanding issue, the Vice President of Sudan, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and the Southern Sudan Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny, also met on Tuesday in Khartoum and agreed to increase the number of seats for Southern Sudan in the National Assembly. This is to resolve the issue of controversial results of the 2008 population census which would affect, if applied as the determinant factor, the share of power for the South in the national government.

The population census results put the South at 8 million which constitutes only 21% of the whole country’s population.

The SPLM demands that the South should continue to maintain 30% power sharing agreement in the CPA and has rejected the results of the census, arguing that they were understated.

In accordance with the 2005 peace deal that ended 21 years of North-South war, the people of Southern Sudan shall vote in the January 2011 referendum to choose between confirming the current unity of Sudan and creating an independent country in their territory based on the yet to be demarcated 1956 borders between the two regions.

On Tuesday, the National Assembly adopted key legislation setting up the planned 2011 referendum on southern independence after northern and southern leaders overcame a dispute that had threatened the country’s peace deal.

In July 21, just a day before PCA, Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, said that the entire population of Abyei should take part in the 2011 referendum, but southern leaders resisted the statement and insisted on only the Ngok Dinka should be allowed to vote.


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