As southern Sudan’s historic independence referendum came to a close, this nation is rapidly preparing to split in half, and the focus is shifting in Abyei, the border land between north and south Sudan. Not only is Abyei the most contested, emotionally charged, and recently the most violent piece of Sudan, but the land also has oil and fertile land.
Since the referendum was passed, two rival ethnic groups have clashed, killing dozens. Both the Misseriya, who are Arab nomads, and the Ngok Dinka, sub-Saharan cattle herders, claim the right to belong in Abyei. Unfortunately, the bitterness between the two tribes is long and deep.
While the referendum on self-determination for South Sudan citizens has gone smoothly, tensions remain high over the region of Abyei. The 1,250-mile border between the north and the south has yet to be demarcated, and the two sides have to decide how to share the oil; while most of it lies in the south, the south is landlocked and the north has the pipeline to the Red Sea. The New York Times quoted an Abyei veterinarian, “We will go to war over this. This is about land, and we can’t compromise on land.” Violent battles in early January have raised fears that the region could drag the North and South back into another war should Abyei decide to unilaterally conduct a referendum in the area.
It is not easy to draw a line through this country. Both north and south Sudan claim Abyei as theirs. In Sudan, the extremes are clear, with Arabs in the upper north, and Christian and animist people in the south. In early February, the joint military command forces representing the Sudan’s southern and northern armies said they have deployed what they described as “well trained” and “professional” armed personnel to the contested region of Abyei, to restore security, peace and stability in the region.
Father, we pray for both north and south Sudan during the post-referendum agreements, and we ask that You would reign over the rivalries over Abyei specifically. Help the leaders to refrain from using the two parties’ differences to fight their political wars, and may they instead achieve a peaceful reconciliation that honors You. And as tribal differences reign in this region, Father we ask that You bring unity among Your flock. Holy Spirit, counsel them to lovingly and peacefully resolve disagreements; may they be in complete unity so that the world who is watching will know You as Lord. Amen
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