Ayom Nyol, “There is nothing left from the burning”

ABYEI, 21 December 2012 (IRIN) - Ayom Nyol is one of several thousand people who have returned to Abyei Town, the once-bustling capital of a region lying on the border between South Sudan and Sudan. Sudan deployed troops there in May 2011, leading most of the population, around 100,000 people, to flee southwards.

Few aid agencies operate in the area. Almost eight years after a peace deal ended decades of civil war, which country Abyei belongs to remains one of the key unresolved issues between South Sudan (which gained independence in 2011) and Sudan. The two states have failed to agree who should be allowed to take part in a long-delayed referendum - now due in October 2013 - to settle the matter.

The UN Interim Security Force for Abyei is now deployed in the area, but few of the displaced have come back.  Nyol’s husband and five children have stayed near aid and safety in nearby Agok, where many of the roughly 100,000 people from the majority Dinka Ngok community fled. But Nyol has come home to cultivate.

She now lives in a disused government building - one of the town’s only constructions still boasting a roof. Its walls are covered in Arabic graffiti, scrawls by Sudanese troops celebrating their occupation.

Nyol fears that this year’s regular southward migration of Misseriya pastoralists could spark more deadly conflict, even if the stalemate between Khartoum and Juba does not deteriorate into violence.

She told IRIN her story.

“We came to cultivate at home, but our houses are burnt and so we came here, near where the UN is, and we walk to our village about an hour from here every day, and come back here to sleep.

“I come from a village called Maryan Ker. It is one hour’s walk from Abyei Town, so I go during the day and come back at night. There is nothing left there from the burning.

“During the rains, we ran up to Agok. My husband, a farmer, is still there with the children.

“I came back in May 2012 when Sudan Armed Forces left and the rains came so that I could cultivate, as there was not a good place to cultivate in Agok.

“I had three relatives killed in the [2011] attack. They bombed people, and people did not know where to run, so people fell down with the bullets just like that. When they killed people, we could not go back and take the bodies for burial, even though we knew our relatives were there.

“Those of the north, they still need to come here. It seems they need this area to belong to them so we are really fearing.

“Before, they brought a cattle camp and did some grazing here, and then they brought some goods for the shops, and then they would go back in May with the rains.

“Now, they like this place, and they want the land. They want it to be theirs.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with them, because they are our relatives, and they have been staying with us for so long, but now they say this place is theirs.

“We are not comfortable with the situation, as they have looted everything, and we don’t want to see them in this area.

“These Misseriya and their cows, we don’t want them to come here anymore, as they came and chased us away.

“They took all of our cows, now we have nothing. They took around 1,000 from my family, plus all the cows of our relatives. Now nothing is left, nothing at all.

“They need land. They need our cows. They need to come here and take everything.

“Now, we don’t have cattle here, but I hope we will again bring our own cows to graze here.

“Every night, I pray that Abyei will be our area and that we can live here peacefully.”