South Sudan foreign affairs minister Dr Barnaba Marial

Despite appointing some people from Abyei to senior positions, the South Sudan government has said people from that region who reside and work in the south are citizens of the neighbouring Sudan.

Indeed, it remains unclear why South Sudan appointed leaders such as recently relieved inspector general of police, Pieng Deng Kuol and Deng Alor Kuol, another citizen of Abyei, who is currently the foreign minister designate.

But what is clear is that the government denied the people from Abyei following report by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights which touched on many violations committed by the government, mentioning among others the dismissal from teaching at the University of Juba, Luka Biong Deng, due to a forum he hosted in October last year at the campus premises to discuss the now contentious issue of the newly created 28 states.

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However, in a statement of explanation to the world’s human rights body, South Sudan’s ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said Dr Luka Biong Deng is not a citizen of South Sudan, but one of the Sudan.

The March 9, official correspondence further denied that Deng was dismissed from the University on the directives of President Salva Kiir, saying the University terminated his contract.

According to independent analysts, the new revelation seems to suggest that the people of Abyei, although they hail from the Dinka ethnic group like the president, have been seen to be foreigners in South Sudan.

The 2005 peace agreement which ended 21 years of war between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) provided for a referendum to be conducted by the people of Abyei to choose between remaining in the Sudan and opting to join South Sudan.

However, the referendum did not take place while South Sudan got its independence in July 2011.

Also, a unilaterally conducted referendum by residents of Abyei in 2013 was not recognized by Sudan and others including the government of South Sudan, but Abyei is included in the South Sudan’s transitional constitution, 2011, as its territory.