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Southern Sudan official: Abyei belongs with us

Philip Mabior

A top official in Southern Sudan insisted Friday that the contested central region of Abyei should be part of the south when Sudan formally splits in two later this year, even though Sudan's president says he then would refuse to recognize the south.

Southern Sudan voted overwhelmingly in January to break away from the north and is slated to become its own country in July, but the future of the region containing oil deposits is still being negotiated months later.

Southern Sudan's Minister for Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development John Luk Jok said the 2005 north-south peace deal that ended more than two decades of war defined Abyei as part of the south. Jok said that is also supported by a 2009 verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir warned this week that he would not accept the south taking control of Abyei, saying it will always remain a part of the north.

"Any attempt to include Abyei in the Constitution of the new Southern Sudan state will mean we will not recognize the new state," al-Bashir said in a warning that could push the sides back toward conflict.

Al-Bashir's warning was dismissed by the top official in Abyei, Deng Arop Kuol, who said Friday that adding Abyei to the south's Constitution "is a good decision."

"The issue of Abyei does not require a statement like that one coming from President al-Bashir," Kon Manyiet, a senior leader in the Abyei administration said.

The 2005 peace deal called for Abyei to conduct its own self-determination referendum while the south carried out its vote. But Abyei's referendum was derailed after the north and south couldn't agree on who was eligible to vote.

A U.S. satellite monitoring group has warned that both the southern and northern militaries have been building up forces and equipment near Abyei.

The Associated Press