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Articles and Analysies Last Updated: Dec 20, 2009 - 3:34:53 PM

The Hague’s Dilemma: Ngok Dinka vs Ngok Dinka over Abyei By: Tut Gatwech, South Sudan ( new south sudan)

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The Hague ’s Dilemma: Ngok Dinka vs Ngok Dinka over Abyei

By: Tut Gatwech, South Sudan ( new south sudan )


It seems that Sudanese in general and the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya tribes in particular, are in agreement with the ruling in The Hague that defined the territory which constituted Abyei area of the nine Ngok-Dinka chiefdoms.

However, the two sides criticized the ruling to some degree with some of the Misseriya tribal leaders blaming the National Congress Party (NCP) for what they called a betrayal as their green land of water and pasture was taken by Ngok-Dinka. While on the other hand some of the Ngok-Dinka leaders criticized the court’s ruling on what they called their oil field of Heglig taken to the North.

But something also caught the attention of those present at The Hague ; and that was the division of the Ngok-Dinka themselves. Some were members of the SPLM delegates while some with the NCP delegates. It was clear that the Misseriya as a tribe was wholly backed by the NCP while the SPLM stood with the Ngok-Dinka during the court’s hearings. But it was also surprising that some chiefs of the Ngok-Dinka sided with the NCP to defend the position of Misseriya against their fellow Ngok-Dinka. No Misseriya chief sided with the SPLM to defend the position of Ngok-Dinka.

Even though one of these NCP’s Ngok-Dinka chiefs defected to SPLM’s Ngok-Dinka chiefs at The Hague, the rest that continued to remain with the NCP’s delegation for the rest of the court’s hearings presenting evidences against their fellow chiefs were believed to have harmed the evidences of the SPLM’s backed chiefs in submission of evidences.

Coming to the Heglig oil field (which is locally called ‘lich’ in Nuer or ‘panthou’ in Dinka) in Unity state, leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) quickly corrected the misinterpretation of the court’s ruling by the National Congress Party as reported in the news after the ruling.

They said the court’s decision was not to define and demarcate the North-South borders through which the contested area of Heglig oil field was supposed to be resolved.

The ruling only defined what constituted Abyei area, and ownership of any other areas including Heglig and Bambo outside of Abyei’s territory was none of the court’s business.

To NCP, if Heglig oil field (lich or panthou), which Ngok-Dinka of Abyei claimed as theirs in the first place, had been found to be outside of Abyei territory by the court’s ruling, then it automatically became that of Southern Kordufan state in the North.

My understanding of the NCP’s argument is that if the SPLM agreed or allowed the Ngok-Dinka to claim Heglig oil field in the first place, then it meant or confirmed to them that the oil field was already in the North since Abyei’s territory was already in the North, and particularly in the state of Southern Kordufan. To them if Heglig didn’t fall within the newly redefined Abyei territory of Ngok-Dinka, then it automatically fell under the jurisdiction of the Greater Southern Kordufan state.

On the other hand, Heglig is claimed by the SPLM as belonging to Unity state. It has been a disputed oil field for all this time since 2005 between Southern Kordufan of the North and Unity state of the South. SPLM believes that the fate of the area in question will be resolved by the North-South Border Demarcation Committee.

The question is since the SPLM knew that Heglig oil field is contested between Southern Kordufan and Unity state, then why did the ruling party in the South allowed Ngok-Dinka of Abyei to claim it in the first place? If the SPLM leaders’ attitude was not to generate dispute between Unity state and Abyei over the claim of the oil field, and with the assumption that if Abyei owned it then it meant the South potentially owned it, they were wrong.

The SPLM should have told the Ngok-Dinka not to claim the Heglig oil field as theirs because the NCP would make this as a confirmation that it belonged to the North where Abyei territory is currently situated. And what if Abyei got the Heglig oil fields and votes to remain in the North during the referendum of 2011, how would the South legally get back the Heglig oil field to Unity state?

It was good that Edward Lino, former administrator of Abyei confirmed that Heglig never belonged to Abyei. But this confession is too late.

It was also misunderstood by those who thought that the ruling was about returning Abyei area to the South or confirming it to the North. No, the ruling was about defining and demarcating the areas of the nine Ngok-Dinka chiefdoms within the North as it is. If the people of nine Ngok-Dinka chiefdoms want to return to the South after more than 100 years in the North, it will be in the 2011 referendum where they will decide on their future political destiny.

Unless the Abyei Boundary Commission (ABC), on which the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague based its decision, claimed the Heglig oil field belonged to Abyei, there was no reason for The Hague court to rule over the fate of Heglig.

It is a known fact that the first report of ABC to Presidency was submitted in July 2005 before our late leader, Dr. John Garang de Mabior died. The NCP rejected it. But was the fate of the Heglig oil field included in the report? I doubt it.

The situation as of now indicates that the two parties, SPLM and NCP, will likely go back to The Hague over the Heglig oil fields plus other potential conflict areas after the North-South border demarcation report, unless they resolve the issues from within the country.

And I hope there will be no South Sudanese chiefs of Unity state defending the NCP’s North over the issues against Unity state as was unfortunately the case with the Abyei’s Ngok-Dinka vs Ngok-Dinka in The Hague.


Tut Gatwech is a youth member living in

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