African Union Meeting in Ethiopia
African leaders will meet today to decide whether to accept a proposal by former South African President Thabo Mbeki for a referendum in October that will determine whether Abyei remains a part of Sudan or joins South Sudan. The proposal limits the right to vote in the referendum to the Ngok Dinka tribe and to permanent residents of Abyei.
However, the Government of Sudan is opposed to a referendum that excludes the nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe, whose members spend a few months of each year grazing livestock in Abyei, but are not permanent residents. In early January, Misseriya leaders raised tensions by issuing a statement declaring their intention to move into Abyei permanently for the whole of 2013 in order to vote in the referendum.
Hope for a displaced community
If the referendum proposal is approved by the African Union and referred to the UN Security Council, it will be a significant moment for the people of Abyei, who have been waiting for two years to exercise their right to self-determination. In May 2011, the northern armed forces invaded Abyei Town, forcing over 130,000 residents to flee, preventing access to humanitarian organisations and delaying the referendum indefinitely. They finally left in August last year, and displaced people are slowly returning to rebuild their lives.
Father Biong, a priest based in Abyei, has asked churches around the world to pray for peace to reign during and after the African Union talks.
Please stand in solidarity with Christians in Abyei and pray for;
• The African Union leaders; that they would accept the proposed date of October 2013 for the referendum, agree that only the Ngok Dinka and permanent residents of Abyei can vote, and refer the decision to the UN Security Council.