Give the parties six weeks for final solution: panel

Despite months of protracted negotiations, mediated by the African Union (A.U.), Sudan and South Sudan appear no closer to a comprehensive resolution on issues left unresolved after the south seceded from the North last year. A primary issue is the status of Abyei — a 10,000 sq km oil-rich territory claimed by both sides.

On Wednesday, the A.U. High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) submitted a report to the A.U. Peace and Security Council, urging that the council give the Sudans two weeks to implement existing agreements on establishing a transitional administration for the disputed territory, and to arrive at a final solution in six weeks.

In its report, the AUHIP stressed the importance of resolving the Abyei dispute, noting that both governments insisted that a failure to resolve Abyei, “can easily lead to the disastrous consequence of the outbreak of war”.

Attempts to hold a referendum to resolve the issue have failed as both sides have been unable to agree on criteria to identify eligible voters. The region serves as the traditional grazing grounds for the Misseriya tribes allied to the North, but is home to a settled population of the Ngok Dinka people who consider themselves South Sudanese.

The AUHIP draft proposal on Abyei mandates that the referendum be held by October 31 2013, and provides voting rights for both — the Ngok Dinka and “other Sudanese residing in the area”, which de facto grants the Misseriya voting rights. However, the proposal insists on permanent residence within Abyei as a precondition for voting rights — a provision that the North has rejected in the past.

The report also suggested that a referendum would likely leave at least one aggrieved party and could reignite the conflict and offered five other options: transfer of Abyei to South Sudan; retention of Abyei by Sudan; temporary A.U.-U.N. administration of the province; partition of the province with a soft border; and the handing over of Abyei to the South with special provisions for the Misseriya tribes.

Options

These options, the AUHIP believes, would better serve the political and socio-economic aspirations of both communities and “would represent the best possible balance [of]… the three inter-connected issues of land, resources and people’s sentiments”. Each proposal would also include provisions to share Abyei’s oil revenues and grazing pastures among its various stakeholders.

However, an Asian diplomat familiar with the talks said both Sudan and South Sudan were adamant on a referendum and would continue to discuss voter modalities.

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