AFP – Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on Monday pledged to work with his South Sudanese counterpart to settle the future of the contested Abyei region, where residents were holding an unofficial referendum.
“I will continue with my brother Salva Kiir… to reach a solution for Abyei that can bring satisfaction to the local communities there,” Bashir said in a speech opening a new session of parliament.
He did not refer to the voting underway Monday by members of Abyei’s Ngok Dinka tribe, which is closely connected with South Sudan and whose members are settled in Abyei.
They were casting ballots on whether to join South Sudan or Sudan.
The Arab Misseriya tribe, who traditionally move back and forth through the area grazing their cattle, have rejected the one-sided ballot which is not sanctioned by the South Sudanese government.
“What happens in this referendum is none of our business. We don’t care about it,” the top Misseriya chief, Mukhtar Babo Nimir, told AFP.
Last week, he said the Misseriya might hold their own ballot if the Ngok Dinka went ahead, although he added that the tribe would not act without consulting the Khartoum government.
The United Nations and African Union have warned that any unilateral move could inflame tensions in the oil-producing zone and risk destabilising the uneasy peace between Sudan and South Sudan.
In his speech, Bashir said he and Kiir had agreed at a summit last week to form an Abyei police force and local administration.
They had already pledged in September to quickly build that administration, which has been delayed for more than two years since both sides first agreed to it.
Bashir’s comments came a day after the African Union Peace and Security Council said it was unable to visit Abyei on Saturday and Sunday because of “obstruction” by Sudan.
It said Khartoum insisted that the visit be postponed for “contrived security reasons”.
“Council stresses that those who obstructed its visit should bear full responsibility for any resulting negative development in the area,” an AU statement said.
The official SUNA news agency on Sunday quoted Foreign Minister Ali Karti as saying Khartoum asked for a postponement of the AU visit because of the unofficial referendum process.