x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UN sends Ethiopian troops to disputed Sudanese town of Abyei

Security Council to deploy 4,200 soldiers to territory after North and South Sudan signed a deal in Addis Ababa last week agreeing to withdraw from Abyei and allow in peacekeepers.

NEW YORK // The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to deploy 4,200 Ethiopian troops in Sudan's disputed Abyei region in a bid to stabilise the border territory less than two weeks before the south of the country splits from the north.

The 15-nation body yesterday adopted a resolution drafted by the United States to establish a peacekeeping mission, the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), to protect civilians, train police and ensure aid reaches those in need for a six-month period.

The resolution calls on the northern government and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army to pull their troops from Abyei, a fertile, oil-producing region that straddles the border and is home to civilians with links to both sides in the conflict.

The UN's most powerful body is "deeply concerned by the current situation in the Abyei area, and by all acts of violence committed against civilians in violation of international humanitarian law and human-rights law including the killing and displacement of civilians", it said.

Northern government troops occupied Abyei on May 21 after a raid on a convoy of their soldiers and UN peacekeepers, which Khartoum blamed on the south and which the UN said was probably the work of southern police or soldiers.

More than 100,000 people have since fled amid chaotic scenes of burning, looting and violence, mainly to the south. Fighting also erupted between pro-south communities and northern troops in the nearby province of South Kordofan.

Troop deployments and violent clashes between rival forces in Abyei and South Kordofan have raised concerns about a resumption of Sudan's two-decade civil war, which claimed some two million lives before it ended with a peace agreement in 2005.

South Sudan voted overwhelmingly in January to secede and is due to become independent on July 9, but the north and south have yet to work out details over the border, citizenship, who rules Abyei and how to divide crude oil revenues.

The UN spokesman Farhan Haq described continued air strikes and artillery shelling by the Sudanese armed forces in South Kordofan, which have forced at least 73,000 civilians to flee their homes in the east and central parts of the state.

The rivals signed a deal in Addis Ababa last week agreeing to withdraw from Abyei and allow in peacekeepers, in talks brokered by the former South African president Thabo Mbeki, the head of an African Union panel. UNISFA has a maximum strength of 4,200 soldiers, 50 police and civilian staff.

France's ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said the peacekeeping force would "open the path to determine the status of Abyei".

Britain's deputy ambassador, Philip Parham, said that the "parties need to do everything they can to resolve the outstanding issues".

"To the extent they remain unresolved the potential for tensions is obviously that much greater, so the harder they can work, even in the next two weeks, the less likely there are going to be damaging tensions," Mr Parham told reporters outside the council chamber.

jreinl@thenational.ae