Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir said international forces should be sent to the disputed region of Abyei and pledged to work for a peaceful resolution of the crisis sparked by the deployment of northern troops in the area.
Kiir, speaking today to reporters in Juba, the capital of oil-rich Southern Sudan, called the northern forces occupying Abyei town “invaders” and said they must be withdrawn.
“I must state here that we are committed to peace,” he said.
Sudan’s army seized Abyei town on May 21 after accusing Southern Sudan’s security forces of attacking its troops two days before while they were withdrawing from the region with a UN convoy. The capture sparked concern that violence may escalate between northern and Southern Sudan, which fought a two-decade civil war that ended with a U.S.-brokered peace accord in 2005.
Kiir said Southern Sudan, which is due to become independent in July, is committed to maintaining peace with President Umar al-Bashir’s government in Khartoum and not resuming the civil war.
“We should not go back to such a sad story,” he said.
The north’s troops will not withdraw until a new agreement is reached with Southern Sudan that would guarantee stability and freedom of movement for all of Abyei’s citizens, Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein said May 23.
Both the north and the south claim Abyei, which lies on the border between the two regions. They had agreed to withdraw “all unauthorized forces” from Abyei by May 17.
The Abyei region is contested between the region’s Ngok Dinka people, who are settled in the area and consider themselves southerners, and Misseriya nomads who herd their cattle south in the dry season and are supported by the government in Khartoum.
As many as 40,000 civilians may have fled Abyei in recent days, Lise Grande, the UN Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, said by phone yesterday from Juba.
Sudan’s government is settling Arab ethnic groups in Abyei, Southern Sudanese army spokesman Philip Aguer said yesterday.
“Whatever it causes us, Abyei will remain the land of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms,” Kiir said.
The UN Security Council has demanded an immediate withdrawal of Sudan’s forces from Abyei.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proposed the establishment of a 7,000-member peacekeeping force in Southern Sudan after the region becomes independent. The UN currently has 10,000 blue helmets to monitor the peace agreement.
The force would mainly monitor, report, advise and support the government in protecting civilians and enforcing the rule of law in the new state, Ban said in a May 17 report.
Abyei was scheduled to vote in January on whether to join the south, which voted that same month to become independent, or remain a special administrative region in the north. The referendum was canceled because of disagreements over who was eligible to vote.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, in a 2009 ruling, set Abyei’s borders to the area around Ngok Dinka settlements, largely excluding the Misseriya. The Misseriya say that as seasonal inhabitants of Abyei, they should also have the right to vote.
The court set key oil fields, including Heglig and Bamboo, outside of the Abyei region. Those fields and Diffra in Abyei are run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co., which is 40 percent owned by Beijing-based China National Petroleum Corp. Abyei produces less than 2,500 barrels a day, according to Sudan’s Oil Ministry.
At independence, Southern Sudan will assume control of about 75 percent of Sudan’s daily oil production of 490,000 barrels, the third-biggest in sub-Saharan Africa.