The second day of south Sudan's referendum transpired with little friction as long lines of voters queued patiently in front of polling centres. The atmosphere was calm yet festive with musical bands touring the streets of Juba, chanting and waving flags and banners calling for secession.
Bagan Amom, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Deng Alor Kuol, minister of regional cooperation, both went to Abyei on Sunday to defuse the situation following news of clashes in the province. The two men were supposed to attend a news conference in Juba last night, but cancelled it at the last minute.
Edward Lino, member of the SPLM Political Bureau and the man in charge of the Abyei dossier, said that a new country is being born -- one determined to offer its people a better life. Lino, who denied that the cause of the Abyei conflict was tribal, blamed the recent clashes on the 31st battalion of the Sudanese army, who mostly belong to the Misseriya tribe. The Khartoum government, he said, ordered members of the battalion to shed their army outfits and gave them arms and ammunition to stir trouble.
Unless the dispute is resolved through dialogue, Abyei could be the next flashpoint, Lino pointed out. He mentioned that the Dinkas living in Abyei have thus far repulsed the attackers and prevented them from seizing their land.
Asked if Abyei could become a hub for economic integration, Lino dismissed the idea. He said that Sudanese tribes are keenly aware of their borders and that trouble begins when these borders are threatened.
According to Lino, the Abyei Protocol offered a solution to the problem, but Al-Bashir rejected it and refused to comply with the international arbitration that followed.
The problem is not confined to Abyei, Lino said. There are more than 13 million nomadic tribesmen herding cattle in the south, and they need the south just as much as the southerners need the north. He advised the Khartoum government to refrain from creating problems for everyone.
The Dinka and the Rozeiqat, Lino said, managed to reach an agreement in western Bahr Al-Ghazal. The same thing could happen in Abyei if Khartoum, which is only interested in oil, ceased its meddling.
Ibrahim Ghandour, political secretary of the National Congress Party (NCP), said that the police forces of the southern government should leave Abyei, claiming the area is affiliated with the presidency and that neither the SPLM nor the NCP should maintain a presence there. He warned that an escalation in Abyei could undermine the referendum. Ghandour said that Amom was making things worse in Abyei and called on the SPLM to keep him in check.
SPLM spokesman Yien Matthew Chol said that the southerners opted for secession only as a last resort. The south has its own cultural identity just as the north does, but the Muslim majority in the north was not in a mood to share. At one point, the entire south had only 200 schools, the same number the north would have in a small-sized town, Chol remarked.
There is hardly a family in the south that hasn’t lost one of its members in war, Chol stated. South Sudan has lost 4 million people in war, and thousands have been maimed or emotionally traumatised. Chol added that many of the southerners living in the US, Australia and Canada came back home to cast their votes. Others have come to the south from the north to vote, as they couldn’t trust the fairness of the referendum procedures in the north.
The British left Sudan decades ago, Chol stressed, and yet the Sudanese could never manage to sit together and sort out their differences.
Regardless of their differences, however, Chol maintained that the southern Sudanese were eager to have good relations with the rest of the Arab world, insisting that Israel has no presence in the south. He urged the Arab media to stop portraying the south Sudanese as enemies of the Arabs and Muslims.
Chol claimed that unless circumstances were to change in the north, other parts of Sudan would also seek secession.