A three-day joint traditional leaders peace conference for Dinka Ngok and Misseriya communities commenced in Entebbe, Uganda on Tuesday with calls for peaceful co-existence.
30 traditional leaders are attending the forum organized by the United Nations Interim Force in Abyei (UNISFA) under the theme, “Peace through dialogue”.
The Ngok Dinka delegation is headed by their paramount chief, Bulabek Deng Kuol, while El Sadig Hireka Izzal Din is heading the Misseriya team at the conference.
In a keynote address at the opening of the conference, the Special Envoy of Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, Hanna Serwaa Tetteh called on the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka traditional leaders to find a solution towards peaceful coexistence within the contested oil-producing Abyei region.
Decrying the increase in insecurity and loss of lives of lives in Abyei, Tetteh said efforts over the two days of the conference are key to working with governments towards finding a lasting solution to peaceful co-existence.
UNISFA’s Acting Head of Mission and Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Olufemi Sawyerr said the conference will enable the two communities to engage themselves in a frank discussion which will unravel the root causes of the conflict and together fashion a workable and sustainable solution.
“The next three days will enable you, the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka leaders, to engage in frank discussion which will unravel the root causes to the conflict in Abyei and work for a sustainable solution. It will also define the parameters of your togetherness,” said Olufemi.
He added, “UNISFA and partners stand ready to support you with our advice and facilitation. We will also support the implementation of your solution for peace by the end of this conference”.
Olufemi appealed to the traditional leaders to have an open mind and discuss with the objective of finding a lasting solution to the crisis in Abyei.
“Our discussions should not be conducted with a view to respond to one another. On the contrary, we must use our time together to understand each other’s perspectives, desires, aspirations and fears,” he said, adding that international interventions must be understood as temporal in nature.
In recent months, violence has intensified in the contested oil-producing region despite the presence of the UN peacekeeping force in the area.
According to authorities in the area, some of the attacks were carried out by the Sudanese Messeriya tribe with the most recent one happening last month, whereby more than 40 civilians including women and children were killed by suspected Messeriya tribesmen in separate incidents in the area.
Abyei, a disputed area since South Sudan obtained independence in 2011, while there have long been tensions between the Ngok Dinka community and the Misseriya nomads who pass through the area looking for grazing.
In 2011, the UN Security Council deployed its peacekeeping force in the disputed area after deadly clashes displaced thousands of the population.