While southerners have turned out en masse since Sunday to decide the future of their oil-rich but underdeveloped, Texas-sized territory, the residents of Abyei have been denied that right, partly because the ruling parties in the north and south could not agree on the definition of an Abyei resident, and therefore who should be eligible to vote in the Abyei referendum.
Although conventional wisdom on Abyei says that the region’s oil deposits are the reason why neither Khartoum or Juba are willing to cede ground on Abyei, experts say the issue is more about the challenges of Sudan’s diverse populations living together and sharing land that both believe is rightfully theirs based on their community’s histories and lore.
Some Misseriya and Ngok Dinka leaders say they think the other group is being manipulated by higher political interests in the north and south. At a conference this week in the capital of the northern state of South Kordofan, which borders Abyei and is home to much of the Misseriya population that migrates south into the area, tribal leaders pledged to band together to appeal to the Sudanese presidency – which includes president Omar al-Bashir and the southern leader Salva Kiir – to find a solution for Abyei.
Accounts of the attacks which occurred around 10 miles northwest of Abyei vary widely, but according to a number of Ngok Dinka sources in Abyei and to various southern officials, about a half dozen police were killed while defending an outpost attacked by armed Misseriya and assorted Khartoum-backed militia fighters just north of a village of Ngok Dinka. For their part, Misseriya elders claim the police fired on them, and that herders were merely defending themselves.