Image 1 of 1
A woman carries grass to use in building a thatched roof on her home in Marail Achak, a village in the disputed Abyei region on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Residents here have just begun to return, after being chased out in 2011 by soldiers and militias from the northern Republic of Sudan. The northerners withdrew in 2012, but not before leaving the water sources destroyed. The local Catholic parish is helping bring life back to Marail Achak by drilling a new well. Although the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement called for residents of Abyei to hold a referendum on whether they wanted to align with the north or the newly independent South Sudan, the government in Khartoum and northern-backed Misseriya nomads, excluded from voting as they only live part of the year in Abyei, blocked the vote and attacked the majority Dinka Ngok population. The African Union has proposed a new peace plan, including a referendum to be held in October 2013, but it has been rejected by the Misseriya and Khartoum. The Catholic parish of Abyei, with support from Caritas South Sudan and other international church partners, has maintained its pastoral presence among the displaced and assisted them with food, shelter, and other relief supplies. In Marail Achak, residents have begun to return despite the absence of U.N. troop patrols or other international support. Only the church is accompanying the returnees.