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Outgoing UN envoy calls for peace talks to continue in disputed town in Sudan

25 January 2010 – Dialogue must continue in the oil-rich town of Abyei, Ashraf Qazi, the outgoing top United Nations envoy to Sudan, has said, underscoring that peace in the disputed area will help to bolster the stability of the African nation as a whole.

In his most recent report on Sudan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the lack of progress in resolving outstanding issues regarding Abyei, close to the border between Sudan’s north and south and where a referendum on its future is scheduled to be held in 2011.

Nearly five years after the signing of the peace pact ending more than two decades of north-south strife, one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil wars in which at least 2 million people were killed, tensions persist in Abyei, home to the Missiriya and Dinka Ngok tribes.

In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague shifted some of the borders of Abyei, leaving control of the Heglig oil field with the national Government in Khartoum.

Although that ruling was welcomed by both the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the two signatories to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the relationship between the Missiriya and Dinka Ngok tribes has been marked by clashes and inflamed tensions.

“Challenges are overcome through negotiations... when everybody’s concerns are addressed,” Mr. Qazi said yesterday in his last visit to the area as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.

Given Abyei’s crucial role in Sudan’s peace process, stability in the area will promote peace in the entire country, he underscored.

Charles Abyei, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Abyei Area Administration (AAA), noted the improvement in the relationship between the two tribes, praising the UN’s “good understanding of the area.”

“The road ahead may be long, but this major step forward should make the journey easier,” he stressed.

Last month, the UN Development Programme (<"">UNDP), the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (<"">UNMIS) and the AAA joined forces to bring the leaders of the Missiriya and Dinka Ngok tribes together for the first time in the conflict’s history.

During the 14 December meeting, which kicked off to cheering, drumming and dancing, top officials from the tribes discussed border security, arms control and migration issues.

Over 2,000 people from both tribes attended the talks to accelerate reconciliation and to dispel misconceptions, such as the rumour that the Dinka intend to build a barrier to prevent the Missiriya from herding their cattle between pasture and water.

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