Cablegate: Abyei Tensions Rise While Compromise Is Sought

DE RUEHKH #0256/01 0521601
O 211601Z FEB 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REFERENCE: IIR 6 890 0142 08

1. (SBU) Summary: According to a Misseriya SPLM MP the threat of
ethnic conflict in Sudan's Abyei region has subsided, but a key GoSS
Minister paints a much darker picture. On February 18, Mohammed
Gour dismissed self-proclaimed "governor" al-Ansari as a tool of the
NISS with no significant following among Abyei Misseriya. A
long-term solution cannot be imposed from the outside, but local
Misseriya and Ngok Dinka can devise one if left to themselves. He
said the Misseriya would never accept the Abyei Boundary Commission
report and would fight if the final border is "unfair." However, on
February 21 GoSS Presidential Affairs Minister Biong Deng called
al-Ansari's activities "a clear provocation" by the NCP and said
that the SPLA was prepared to seek "a military solution" if
necessary. End Summary.

Abyei: Backing away from Conflict?
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2. (SBU) On February 18, Econoff and AIDoff met with Mohammed Gour,
an ethnic Misseriya and SPLM Member of Parliament from Abyei. Gour
said he had returned from a visit to Abyei and had just come from
briefing the SPLM Political Bureau on his findings and
recommendations. Gour said that news reports seriously exaggerate
the level of tension in Abyei between Misseriya and Ngok Dinka and
that the threat of conflict is subsiding. He had urged the
Political Bureau that SPLM take a moderate tone in public, while
seeking to defuse the situation through negotiations with the NCP in
Khartoum. In Abyei itself, Gour said that respected, moderate
Misseriya elder Abdul Rahman had been given the role of emissary to
the Ngok Dinka community, assuring them that the Misseriya do not
seek conflict.

Causes of Tension
- - - - - - - - -

3. (U) Relations between the sedentary Ngok Dinka and the
semi-nomadic Misseriya are long and complex. Misseriya discontent
has been building for some time over, due to their belief that the
strongly SPLM Ngok Dinka have been gradually cutting them out of
participation in the Abyei-regional government. But Gour said that
this most recent flare-up is the result of actions taken by the
SPLM/SPLA in recent months, including burning grasslands used by
Misseriya herdsmen for grazing, demands by the SPLA that the
herdsmen pay a tax and disarm before driving their herds over the
North-South border to graze in North Bahr al-Ghazal state, and the
appointment of Edward Lino as SPLM administrator for Abyei. Lino's
appointment alarmed the Misseriya because they have as yet no
official of equal stature able to speak for them collectively and
deal with Lino on an equal footing.

A "Governor" with No Local Support?
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4. (SBU) Gour dismissed Muhammed Umar al-Ansari, the
self-proclaimed Misseriya "Governor of Abyei" and leader of the
"Abyei Liberation Front" (ALF). Al-Ansari has claimed that the ALF
can field thousands (the exact number varies widely from statement
to statement) of Misseriya militia to fight the Ngok Dinka and the
SPLA. He has called for the Misseriya to be granted a controlling
55% share in the Abyei regional government. He also has demanded
that he himself be named head of development for the area north of
Abyei town, i.e., the bulk of the Abyei region. In the past,
al-Ansari has been accused of seeking to boost the Misseriya
population of Abyei by settling Misseriya from outside.

5. (SBU) Gour asserted that, in fact, al-Ansari had little or no
base of support among the Abyei Misseriya and that his ALF is
largely a fiction. Rather, Gour said that al-Ansari is being used
as an instrument of Khartoum's National Intelligence and Security
Service (NISS) to promote unrest in the region. According to Gour,
the NISS wants to raise up al-Ansari as the NCP's counterweight to
the SPLM's Edward Lino. (Note: On February 20, AIDoff was told
that pro-NCP Oulad Kamal Misseriya chieftain Babu Mohktar Nimer has
given his support to al-Ansari. He learned from UN contacts that
they have second-hand reports of SAF troop and armored movements in
neighboring southern Khordofan. However, AIDoff was told by
al-Ansari himself that the NCP and SPLM have agreed to defuse the
crisis by establishing a joint Ngok Dinka/Misseriya administration
for Abyei and would announce this within 48 hours. Post has not yet
been able to confirm this with the SPLM, but various influential
Ngok Dinka from both the NCP and SPLM that have been meeting with
Lino on February 20 in Khartoum expressed doubt to AIDoff that a
solution has been found. End Note.)

Salva Kiir's Dilemma

KHARTOUM 00000256 002 OF 002

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6. (SBU) Emboffs pressed Gour on what the Misseriya would regard as
an acceptable solution to the Abyei issue, noting that GOSS
President Salva Kiir Mayardit is in a delicate situation. On the
one hand, Kiir needs to take a strong position on the location of
the Abyei border and the security of the Ngok Dinka, both to avoid
giving the NCP the perception that it might be able to challenge
other provisions of the CPA, and because Abyei is a highly emotional
issue among his supporters in the South. Were he perceived to back
down on Abyei, he could be accused of weakness by SPLM hardliners.
On the other hand, Kiir might run the risk of losing the recent
growing support for the SPLM among the Misseriya, if they perceived
him to be acting against their interests. Additionally, Gour
mentioned that the SPLM was working to gain the support of
Darfurians, some of which (i.e. the Rizigat) have close relations
with the Misseriya.

7. (SBU) Gour refused to be pinned down on what the Misseriya would
regard as acceptable. He maintained that a long-term solution could
not be imposed from Khartoum by the SPLM and the NCP. He stated
only that if left to themselves, the Abyei Misseriya and the Ngok
Dinka would be able to work out an amicable solution and live in
peace. Gour said that such a solution would have to be local, and
would be possible only if the NCP and SPLM refrained from meddling.
When pressed on the contentious issue of the location of Abyei's
northern border, Gour stated that it must be the "1956 boundary,"
the boundary determined by the Abyei Boundary Commission is not
acceptable (his own party, the SPLM, officially favors the ABC
Report). Gour said that the Misseriya would fight, if the boundary
is "unfair."

SPLM: "A Severe Provocation"
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8. (SBU) In a meeting with ConGen Juba on February 21, a worried
and distracted GoSS Presidential Affairs Minister Luka Biong Deng
described al-Ansari's activities as "a severe provocation" that was
engineered by the NCP. This is a continuation by the NCP and SAF of
previous disruptive activities along the North-South boundary over
the past few months. Luka asserted that al-Ansari could marshal
1500 armed supporters. He said that the NCP is manipulating the
Abyei situation to highjack the agenda of the scheduled February 21
meeting between President al-Bashir and First Vice President (and
GoSS President) Kiir to resolve recent Abyei tensions. He went on
to say that the GoSS is prepared for "a military solution" if it
comes to that. He said that one SPLA division is a 30 minute march
from Abyei town and a second force is an hour away.

- - - -

9. (SBU) Gour's eyewitness observations provide hope that the
underlying situation is not as volatile as is being reported
elsewhere. However, this is the first time Consulate Juba has heard
Minister Biong Deng - a key SPLM player in the Abyei situation who
is extremely close to President Kiir - place the possibility of a
military solution on the table. This is a dramatic and worrisome
development. The Abyei situation continues to evolve rapidly and
Post will continue to monitor the situation closely. As often
feared, Abyei could help keep or break the Comprehensive Peace

10. (SBU) For information on the agenda for the February 21 meeting
in Khartoum on the Implementation of Abyei Protocol, see DLO
Khartoum IIR 6 890 0142 08.


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