Sudan’s North, South Agree to Demilitarize Abyei Region

Northern and Southern Sudan pledged to pull their military forces out of the disputed border region of Abyei and to accept in principle the deployment of Ethiopian troops in the region, an African Union spokesman said.

Details of the deployment are still being worked out, Barney Afako, the spokesman for the African Union’s high-level implementation panel on Sudan, told reporters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The two sides agreed to withdraw military forces from the region by July 9, when Southern Sudan is scheduled to become independent.

“We have confidence Ethiopian forces will be able to deploy quickly,” he said. The Ethiopians would help to ensure that “civilians can return and administration can be restored in Abyei.”

Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir and the leader of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, participated in the talks that included former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the head of the African Union Panel, and Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi.

Sudan’s army seized the main town in Abyei on May 21 after accusing Southern Sudan’s security forces of attacking its troops. Sudanese planes bombed a village in Southern Sudan’s Unity state for the second time in a week today, said a local commissioner. Fighting has also spread to the Southern Kordofan state, raising concern that the violence could reignite the two-decade civil war in sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil producer that ended in 2005.

U.S. Welcome

The U.S. would welcome Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier today, describing the situation in the area as “deeply troubling.”

Details of the funding and mandate of the Ethiopian peacekeepers need to be worked out in negotiations that are continuing, Afako said.

Abyei 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.

A referendum in Abyei scheduled for January on whether to join the south or remain a special administrative region in the north was canceled because of disagreements over who was eligible to vote.

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