In May 2008, long-simmering tensions between the Sudan People's Liberation Army of the south and government forces from the north boiled over into violent clashes in the town of Abyei, causing an estimated 25,000 people to flee their homes.
They are gradually moving back to Abyei, located along the north-south border of Sudan. And efforts are underway to rebuild the town, including repairing roads and replacing the mud and thatched roof homes, known as tukuls. But still there are large swaths of barren land.
PBS NewsHour's Larisa Epatko spoke with Abuk Ngor Kiir, 23, about her life in Abyei, her participation in the youth union there, and about a referendum in early 2011 in which residents of southern Sudan will vote whether to become an independent country or stay unified with the north.
Can you tell me your name and a bit about yourself?
My name is Abuk, and I studied in Khartoum in primary school. I couldn't make it to the high school examination to enable me to go to a university after secondary school. So I studied in an English school in Khartoum. And now I'm working in the nutrition section of a hospital. I'm a member in the Abyei Youth Union.
Why did you join the Abyei Youth Union?
I joined the Abyei Youth Union to serve my country. We are intervening in the process of anything happening in Abyei, solving conflicts, everything. And if something happens, we go as a youth union to meet with the administrator [of Abyei] and other officials.
What do young people in Abyei do for fun?
There's no place to have any entertainment in after the crisis in Abyei. I was in Khartoum and when I came back [to Abyei] after the crisis, I found everything destroyed and there is nothing and no where to have fun. And everyone was just devastated.
Will things get better after the elections or referendum next year?
In God's will, everything is going to be alright.
Should South Sudan become its own country in the 2011 referendum?
Yes, sure. For Abyei if we are going to be with Bahr el Ghazal state or South Kordofan state, there will be others responsible for us. We would like to be separate or independent, so we can govern ourselves.
What's your favorite food?
My favorite food is rice and wheat macaroni, which is made very sweet with sugar, and also fish.
What are your hopes for Abyei?
Stability and peace, and safety and security in the whole country. And all the best!
Kuol Monjtuj Kuol, 29, one of the leaders of the Abyei Youth Union, describes the work of the group in the following video. The group emerged after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 ended fighting in their area, and the youth realized a lot of work needed to be done to maintain peace. They haven't set up a Web site yet, but are working on it, he says.