Controversial border area
The Abyei border area is particularly controversial, as it has rich oil wells and valuable pasture. The conflict over Abyei was jeopardizing South Sudan’s independence at the last minute, but the parties managed to agree that a peacekeeping force of 4,200 Ethiopian troops would be stationed in the area and that negotiations would continue later.
Abyei is inhabited by two peoples: ngok dinka, which is a branch of the southern dinka, and periodically by misseriya, which are Arab nomads. During the Civil War, they ended up on opposite sides, largely because the Khartoum regime favored the Arabs.
The CPA stipulated that Abyei’s residents in a special referendum in 2011 would decide whether the area would belong to the north or the south. But the vote was postponed indefinitely after disagreement over who would have the right to participate. That disagreement is still unresolved.
The UN Security Council sent a peacekeeping force called Unmiss to southern Sudan to monitor compliance with the peace agreement. The CPA was followed by some political softening and al-Bashir’s party NCP co-ruled with Garang’s SPLM.
In July 2005, Garang became Vice President under al-Bashir and President of Autonomous South Sudan, but only a few weeks later he died in a helicopter crash. He was succeeded in all posts by SPLM’s Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who, unlike Garang, openly advocated independence for the South.
Soon the co-operation between north and south began to crack. No federal military force had been trained and the commission that would distribute the oil revenues did not work.
In May 2008, fighting broke out in Abyei between the two sides’ armies. More than 50,000 civilians fled. Following US pressure, the parties agreed to let the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague determine the demarcation at Abyei. After a year, the court ruled that northern Sudan was entitled to two oil fields, but when the government in Khartoum refused to share the revenue from them, southern Sudan withdrew its claim to the entire area.
Elections and referendum
In April 2010, general elections were held throughout Sudan. They consolidated the contradictions between the parts of the country, but in any case they could proceed with preparations for the referendum in the south. New outbreaks led to suspicions that the north side was trying to sabotage the referendum. Particularly serious was the situation in Abyei, where the north side was suspected of trying to drive out residents who were supposed to want to vote for joining the south.
In October, negotiations on Abyei stalled and it became clear that the local referendum could not be carried out according to plan. Later, it was also formally postponed indefinitely.
After all, the referendum in the south could take place in January 2011. Not unexpectedly, almost 99 percent said yes to forming an independent state with a capital in Juba.
Despite the joy of the birth of the new state in July, a number of problems persisted. During the first months of the year, a series of bloody battles broke out in several provinces in the south between the SPLA’s government army and rival militias. The SPLM government in Juba accused Khartoum of attempting a coup in the south before Independence Day and suspended cooperation with the government in the north for the time being.
In May, regular units from northern Abyei took over and drove away SPLA. Thousands of civilians fled and the capital was reported to have been looted and partially burnt down. The UN, the EU and several Western powers demanded the immediate withdrawal of the North Side and expressed great concern about a new civil war.
The international pressure, and the fact that both sides realized that a new war would be fatal for themselves, led to the battle ax being buried, at least temporarily. Negotiations on Abyei, other demarcation, distribution of future oil revenues and more are postponed to the future. As one of the first countries, Sudan recognized its new neighbor South Sudan when the new state was declared in Juba on July 9, 2011.