Rising Tensions in Abyei

If war breaks out between North and South Sudan, Abyei will be at the center of the conflict. The North-South border region is becoming tenser by the day ahead of next month’s referendum on southern independence.

Like South Sudan, Abyei too, was granted its own referendum under the peace deal that ended the 22-year civil war in Sudan in 2005. But as the possibility of holding a vote for Abyei on January 9, 2011 fades, communities on the ground are growing anxious.

Veteran multimedia journalist Tim Freccia recently spent time in the contested border region, and talked with residents about their fears of a return to war. He sent this video dispatch, his second in a series of regular video posts from southern Sudan exclusively for the Enough Project and Not On Our Watch.

 

 

Abyei is mostly populated by Ngok Dinka, who fought for the South during the bloody civil war. If given the chance to vote, it is likely the region would go to the South. The Misseriya, a tribe of Arab pastoralists, pass through the region on seasonal migration routes while grazing their cattle. They have demanded continued access to the region and fear the reprucussions should the resource-rich region go to the South.

The question of Abyei has proven to be one of the most difficult issues to resolve for mediators. As January 9 approaches, analysts are now saying that Abyei’s referendum will be postponed indefinitely. Instead, the governments of North and South Sudan are in the process of trying to reach an agreement on what should become of the region.

As one of the key mediators, the United States is becoming increasingly involved in negotiations over the fate of Abyei. Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy dispatched to deal with the North-South tension, recently visited with Misseriya leaders in Abyei and listened to their grievances.

“I think the solution does move Abyei to the South but makes room for the Misseriya to participate in ways that protect their long-term rights,” Lyman said in an interview.

Tim Freccia is a Nairobi-based photojournalist and documentary filmmaker who covers conflict and crisis.