Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 17:12 UK

Sudan relief at border decision

An international court has demarcated the boundaries in Sudan's oil-rich Abyei region. Mediators hope the ruling will allow a lasting peace between north and south Sudan. Our correspondents get the reaction around Sudan.

Peter Martell, Abyei

Foreign Minister Deng Alor (L) Malik Aggar governor of Blue Nile state (C) and Internal Affairs Minister Ibrahim Mahmuod Hamid
Officials from north and south seemed happy with the result

In a hot thatch hut in Abyei, former civil-war enemies from both Sudan's north and south squeezed themselves together to see probably the only television in town.

On the screen, beamed live from an international court in The Hague, was the ruling on where the exact border of this oil-rich region lies.

Apart from the seated dignitaries in front of the screen, few could see or clearly hear what was said of what the new boundaries of this area straddling north and south Sudan would be.

Residents of Abyei, with a southern Sudan flag in background, celebrate the decision of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration
For the people here, the ruling was less about oil, and more about who may govern them in the future

Instead, for many, it was the faces of the officials that people watched - to see how they reacted to the news.

Deng Alor, Sudan's foreign minister and a key member of the former rebel southern leadership, leaned towards the television with a furrowed brow.

Officials from the northern National Congress Party conferred with heads close together.

The ruling was detailed and complicated, marking out new borders on lands that contain rich reserves of oil.

The lands are also home to both the Ngok Dinka people, seen as southerners, and the Misseriya Arabs, regarded as northerners.

But as the ruling ended, Mr Alor's first action was to turn to his neighbour - northern official and Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid - and shake his hand.

There was a feeling of relief.

It seemed the mood was compromise and acceptance, not war.

There had been apprehension in Abyei ahead of the announcement, following deadly violence in May 2008 between northern and southern troops that razed the town and forced thousands to flee.

For the people here, the ruling was less about oil, and more about who may govern them in the future.

Driving through its muddy streets, it seemed business as usual.

There are still burnt-out buses and the remains of ruined huts from last year's fighting. But the market was busy, and the children were in school.

It will take time for the full details of the ruling to filter out in this remote area.

But shortly after the ruling, celebrations began around a thousand people dancing in the town singing: "Abyei is our land."

Many feared violence following the ruling but, so far, there is calm.

James Copnall, Khartoum
The Great Hall of Justice at the Peace Palace in The Hague, 22/07
Many Sudanese watched the ruling on live TV

The decision on what constitutes Abyei's borders was closely followed by the Sudanese.

Newspapers have reported on every twist and turn up to the verdict, sometimes announcing contradictory or simply false leaks about what the Permanent Court of Arbitration would rule.

Some analysts believe the oil reserves will be exhausted relatively soon

When the court did announce its decision, Sudanese state radio carried it live, and state television cut into its scheduled programmes to carry the TV feed from The Hague.

It will be some time before the full repercussions of the deal are known - the abstract lines on the map will have to be traced onto the arid Sudanese soil to see which part really belongs to Abyei, and which stays in the north.

Then the reaction of those most directly concerned - principally the Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya Arabs around the old Abyei border line - may take some time to develop.

But there is no doubt the north is jubilant at the court's decision.

Symbolic victory?

Under the initial ruling of the Abyei Border Commission, the major oil field at Heglig was part of Abyei.

But according to the Permanent Court of Arbitration's verdict, Heglig remains in the north.

However some analysts believe the oil reserves will be exhausted relatively soon, giving the north something of a symbolic victory.

But it is not just about oil.

The north will be happy that a railway town, and an area where mechanised farming is practised, are both outside Abyei.

Another issue is grazing rights for the Misseriya Arabs.

The ruling allows them to travel through Abyei - though this has lead to tension in the past.

Abyei will vote on whether it wants to join the south or the north in 2011 - and Wednesday's ruling, which excludes areas dominated by the Misseriya, makes it more likely the region sides with the south.

But Sudanese and others will be watching the reaction to this ruling on the ground very carefully in the next few months, as not everyone will have been pleased by it.


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