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Tensions rise in Abyei during referendum vote

media A family waits in Khartoum for transport back to Abyei, 9 January Reuters

Armed Misseriya tribesmen killed 10 southern Sudanese civilians as they returned from north Sudan, the south Sudan government said on Tuesday. A convoy was ambushed near the border on Monday by six or seven vehicles with people carrying arms. There have been a number of incidents of violence in recent days.

“A convoy of returnees coming from the north to the south were ambushed yesterday (Monday) at about 5pm (14:00 GMT) by armed Misseriya. Ten were killed and 18 were wounded,” southern Internal Affairs Minister Gier Chuang told a news conference.

He said Khartoum must be held responsible for the actions of the armed Nomadic tribe. The Misseriya were an important northern-aligned militia during the civil war and are involved in an ongoing conflict with the pro-southern Dinka.

“The Misseriya belong to a state and that state has to be held accountable,” Chuang said in Juba.

Dossier: Independence for South Sudan

On Monday soldiers killed two militants in Unity state, a significant oil-producing region near the north-south border. Since Friday, clashes between Misseriya Arrabs and Ngok Dinka in Abyei have killed at least 33 people on both sides.

“It is very unfortunate that such an incident happened at the time the people of Abyei were casting their vote,” Luka Biong, a leading member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and a member of the Ngok Dinka tribe, told RFI.

“It’s highly politically motivated,” Biong said from Khartoum. “The residents of Abyei, the Ngok Dinka have been attacked, it is happening in their own areas, as defined by the permanent court of arbitration. I’m not saying these are [attacks by the] Misseriya. But they are politically motivated,” he added.

The Abyei region is simultaneously holding its own vote during the south referendum on independence. It will decide whether to remain in the north or join the south.

Part of the dispute in Abyei is about eligibility for the vote. The Misseriya tribe, who migrate to Abyei during the dry season to find water for their livestock, insist that they should have the same voting rights as the Dinka.

Sadiq Babo Nimir, a member of the opposition Umma party and a member of the Misseriya tribe, told RFI that the Dinka provoked attacks.

“They started by shooting at the herd. They killed a bull,” said Nimir. “This is just some sort of provocation, they said they want meat, instead of killing one or two, they kill a lot,” he added.

“The Dinka, they are very influencial with the SPLM and they don’t care about the south, they just want Abyei,” Nimir said from Abyei.

Voting had been suspended in some areas on Sunday following violence.

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