Northern and Southern Sudan agreed today to withdraw their forces from the disputed border region of Abyei and the United Nations Security Council prepared to authorize deployment of Ethiopian peacekeepers.
“The agreement provides for demilitarization of Abyei, so the Sudan forces that are there will pull out and be redeployed out of Abyei, as well as any other military force,” former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who negotiated the agreement as head of the African Union’s High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, told reporters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, told a meeting of the Security Council in New York that her government would circulate a draft resolution authorizing the Ethiopian mission. Envoys of the Security Council 15 member governments are considering a U.S.-drafted statement endorsing the accord.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon backed the agreement in a statement released in New York and said both sides to the conflict should “establish an administration and police service and to provide their full cooperation to the United Nations and government of Ethiopia in deploying peacekeeping troops and police to the area.”
Sudan’s army seized the main town in Abyei on May 21 after accusing Southern Sudan’s security forces of attacking its troops. The south is due to become independent on July 9. Fighting in Abyei and the northern Sudanese border state of Southern Kordofan has raised concern of a return to the two-decade civil war in sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil producer that ended in 2005.
Mbeki told the Security Council that “good progress” has been made in a broader agreement on post-independence issues, including Sudan’s foreign debt, trade, currency and apportionment of oil revenue. This “comprehensive proposal” will be discussed in Addis Ababa tomorrow, Mbeki said.
“We are hoping that by the end of this month we should have concluded all of these, so that there is a clear picture by the beginning of July of what will happen,” Mbeki said. He also said discussion of security arrangements on the border of Sudan and Southern Sudan was “close to resolution,” with the size and composition of the force the outstanding issues.
“The government of Sudan is sincere in its determination to resolve all pending issues,” Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, Sudan’s ambassador to the UN told the Security Council.
Since the Sudanese army’s occupation of Abyei, about 113,000 people have fled their homes, according to the UN.
A five-member security committee, with of two members each from the north and south and a chairman nominated by the head of the African Union, will “take overall responsibility for security in the Abyei area,” Mbeki said. The Abyei legislature will have a chairman nominated by the government, he said.
“Both sides have agreed that you could not come to the matter of determining the final status of Abyei until you had stabilized the security situation and taken all these measures to ensure there will be no further conflict in this area,” Mbeki 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.
Right 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. That largely excluded the Misseriya, who say that as seasonal inhabitants of the area, they should also have the right to vote.
The court also set key oilfields run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co., which is 40 percent owned by Beijing-based China National Petroleum Corp., outside of the Abyei region. Abyei produces less than 2,500 barrels a day, according to Sudan’s Oil Ministry.