Abyei counts vote for Sudan or S Sudan future
30 October 2013, 17:00
Juba - Counting began on Wednesday in an unofficial
referendum in the flashpoint Abyei region to decide if it lies in Sudan or
South Sudan, observers said, amid African Union warnings the poll is a
"threat to peace".
The fate of Abyei is one of the most important and sensitive
issues left unresolved since South Sudan became an independent state in 2011,
ending two decades of civil war in Sudan.
"The laborious process of counting the number of
ballots cast has begun," said Tim Flatman, an independent observer in the
disputed district, calling the counting a "slow but very transparent
The majority of 65 000 registered voters are believed to
have cast their ballots in the three-day long poll which closed on Tuesday
Results were expected later Wednesday or Thursday.
AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has said the vote was
illegal and its organisers were risking sparking a return to war between civil
war foes in Juba and Khartoum.
"They pose a threat to peace in the Abyei area, and
have the potential to trigger an unprecedented escalation on the ground... with
far-reaching consequences for the region as a whole," she said in a
statement on Monday.
Patrolled by some 4 000 Ethiopian-led UN peacekeepers, the
area is home to the settled Ngok Dinka tribe, closely connected to South Sudan,
as well the semi-nomadic Arab Misseriya, who traditionally move back and forth
from Sudan grazing their cattle.
Only the Ngok Dinka are voting in the referendum - although
organisers insist it is open to all - and the Misseriya have already angrily
said they will not recognise the results of any unilateral poll.
Abyei was meant to vote on whether to be part of Sudan or
South Sudan in January 2011 - the same day Juba voted overwhelmingly to split
from the north - as part of the 2005 peace deal which ended Sudan's two-decade
long civil war.
That referendum was repeatedly stalled, and Sudanese troops
stormed the Lebanon-sized enclave in May 2011 forcing over 100 000 to flee
southwards, leaving a year later after international pressure.