May 8, 2013 (JUBA) – The newly-appointed paramount chief of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms of the disputed region of Abyei vowed on Wednesday that he will follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, the late Kuol Deng Kuol.
- The former chief died on Saturday when a convoy he was travelling in with the United Nations Interim Force for Abyei (UNISFA) was ambushed by armed members of the nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe on as they returned to Abyei town after a visit further north.
Kuol, who was often known as Kuol Adol, was part of a joint delegation from Juba and Khartoum that visited the area to hold talks on how the two sides could move forward with consultations to end the deadlock on the formation of a temporary administration in the strife-torn border zone.
The delegation held talks in Abyei town from the 3-4 May, before travelling north to Kej for similar talks and to familiarise themselves with the activities of oil companies operating there.
Speaking for the first time since being announced as Kuol’s replacement at a family gathering in Abyei on Wednesday, chief Bulabek Deng Kuol, a medical practitioner, called for unity, saying he would work towards accomplishing what his predecessor had planned.
“I have informally held meetings with the family members, community leaders, chiefs and elderly. In these meetings I have received assurance of support and readiness to work together which I think is very important and it is the only right way we can honour the success of our late paramount chief”, Bulabek told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.
Late leader of Dinka Ngok tribe, Kuol Deng Kuol (L) shakes hands with the Misserya Al-Amer Mokhtar Papo after signing a peace agreement in the town of Kadugli north of Abeyi on January 13, 2011 (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty)
“We need to remain united and show that we can over[come] any challenge, including this tragic incident. As to how I am going to work with the people, I have assured that them I will follow [in the] footsteps of Kuol Adol. He was not working alone”, he added.
Bulabek was among several South Sudanese government officials attending Kuol’s burial service on Monday, led by the secretary-general of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Pagan Amum.
Speakers from the delegation assured members of the Ngok Dinka community of the government’s commitment to “stand together with them”, explaining that the loss of their chief was not only a loss to the community, but also a great loss to the entire nation.
“I would like to advise you that, [we] stand as one person with the new chief, South Sudan’s deputy defence minister, Majak D’Agoot, told mourners at the burial.
D’Agoot likened Kuol’s death to an incident in his home state of Jonglei in 1967, in which 27 paramount chiefs were shot dead.
“Twenty-seven chiefs were shot and slaughtered in Jonglei State in 1967 by the government in Khartoum because they were considered rebels. Remember Ngok people have [the] strength and courage of support. The South Sudan government delegation was sent on behalf of the president, Salva Kiir, [as] a commitment to stand with the people of Abyei in the desired struggle”, he told mourners.
He also reiterated the South Sudanese government’s commitment to achieving the successful conduct of a planned referendum in October to decide the fate of Abyei, which is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan.
A referendum initially scheduled for January 2011 never took place due to ongoing disagreements between Khartoum and Juba over who was eligible to participate.
In a bid to end the stalemate last year, the African Union (AU) backed a proposal allowing only those residing permanently in the area to vote in the plebiscite.
The decision effectively excludes members of the Misseriya nomads, who enter the area at different times of the year to graze their cattle, from participating in the vote.
The Southern-aligned Dinka Ngok tribe comprise the majority of permanent residents and are expected to vote in favour of joining with South Sudan.
Sudan has rejected the plan, but mediators stress the exclusion of the Misseriya nomads is in line with a decision by the Hague-based arbitration court, which defined the territory of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms in July 2009.