The history of Sudan has long been plagued by civil war. The largely non-Arab, non-Muslim South, accused the predominately Arab, Muslim North of political and economic exclusion, as well as ethnic and religious discrimination. The protracted war, which lasted on-and-off for decades, pitted the North’s government against the South’s rebel groups, most notably the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). In 2005, the two sides agreed to the comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), ending the war, but leaving certain issues unresolved.
While a 2011 referendum resulted in the independence of South Sudan, the Abyei area, which lies along the border of Sudan and South Sudan, remains contested. Due to the presence of oil in the region, Abyei is of significant economic value to both countries. The situation is further exacerbated by a competition for resources; rival ethnic groups – the Ngok Dinka from the South and the Misseriya from the North – claim ownership of the land and have been the driving force behind violence in the region for the past several years. As part of the 2005 CPA, both northern and southern Sudanese authorities agreed to hold a referendum to decide the future status of Abyei in January 2011. However, violence and southern concerns over voter eligibility prevented the referendum from occurring at that time, and the vote has effectively been postponed indefinitely.
On 22 October, 2013, the Presidents of the Sudan and South Sudan met in Juba and agreed to expedite the establishment of the Abyei Area Administration, the Abyei Area Council and the Abyei Police Service. Despite the apparent progress represented by this agreement, the situation has since begun to deteriorate. Furthermore, little progress has been made in the establishment of the Abyei Area Administration, Council, and Police Services. These delays, along with the recent increase in violence, serve to highlight the value and necessity of UNISFA’s presence and continued efforts in the region.