Abyei opts to join South Sudan in unofficial referendum

Women wait to vote in front of a polling station located at a school during a referendum in the town of Abyei on 27 October 2013
Image caption Abyei's Dinka Ngok residents are culturally and ethnically allied to South Sudan

Residents of the disputed region of Abyei have voted overwhelmingly to join South Sudan in an unofficial referendum.

But the Arabic-speaking Misseriya nomadic community favouring union with Sudan boycotted the vote.

Abyei's Dinka Ngok ethnic group organised the vote, with 99.9% of voters wanting to join South Sudan.

Abyei abuts both Sudan and South Sudan - which seceded in 2011 - and is claimed by both countries.

The African Union has described the vote as a threat to peace between Sudan and South Sudan.

A 2005 peace deal was supposed to give Abyei a separate referendum on whether to be part of Sudan or South Sudan.

However, the two sides still cannot agree on who is eligible to vote in the referendum and so it has not officially been held.

'No-one will recognise it'

"The Abyei people have been suffering for a long time. People are marginalised, mistreated and their rights denied. They deserve this day," Deng Alor, chairman of the Abyei Referendum High Committee, told the Reuters news agency.

But top Misseriya chief Mukhtar Babo Nimir told the AFP news agency that "no-one in the world will recognise this referendum".

Tim Flatman, an independent observer in Abyei, said only 12 out of 63,433 people voted to be part of Sudan during the three-day poll, AFP reports.

Initial observations suggested a "very transparent process", he said.

The UN has some 4,000 peacekeepers in Abyei.

Abyei's Dinka Ngok residents are culturally and ethnically allied to South Sudan and backed its rebel army during decades of civil war against Khartoum's rule.

However, the Arabic-speaking Misseriya people also see it as their ancestral homeland and want to remain in Sudan.

North and South Sudan have suffered decades of conflicts driven by religious and ethnic divides, with an estimated 1.5 million people killed in the civil war.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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