May 31, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan denied reports of an agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on establishing a demilitarized zone on the North-South borders.
- A machinegun-mounted truck manned by members of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) drive past smouldering businesses and homesteads, locally known as "tukuls", burn in the centre of Abyei, central Sudan in this handout photograph released on May 28, 2011 (Reuters)
Early Tuesday, the African Union released a statement saying that both sides signed an accord in the Ethiopian capital that "establishes a common border zone between north and south Sudan, which is to be demilitarized and jointly monitored and patrolled,”.
The NCP-SPLM accord was brokered by the African Union High-Level implementation panel (AUHIP) for Sudan headed by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
“The agreement paves the way for further negotiations on key security issues between the parties, to be convened by the AU Panel within the week,” an African Union statement said.
However, the NCP media secretary Ibrahim Ghandour downplayed the AU’s announcement describing what was signed as a plan given to both sides as part of many on the table that could form the basis of a framework agreement.
Ghandour stressed that the proposals submitted are still being discussed with none being endorsed yet.
Alex de Waal, an adviser for AUHIP, who has facilitated negotiations on security issues between Sudan’s north and south regions, told Associated Press from Addis Ababa that the parties agreed on Monday during talks in Ethiopia’s capital to form a common, demilitarized zone stretching across the 1,300-mile north-south border.
The SPLM expressed skepticism on whether such an agreement can be implemented.
“The question is, whether the Khartoum army and intelligence implement it?” SPLA spokesperson Col. Philip Aguer commented to New York Times. “We doubt it very much.”
The North-South borders have witnessed military escalation weeks before Southern Sudan is set to become an independent state. A referendum held last January resulted in a landslide vote in favor of secession from the North by Southerners who flocked to the polls.
Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) took over Abyei region more than a week ago in retaliation against an attack on its troops by Southern units. The Northern army claimed that the ambush resulted in scores of dead and missing soldiers.
The international community called on Khartoum to withdraw from the disputed region and to reinstate the Abyei administration council that was dissolved through a decree issued by president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir immediately after the takeover.
Bashir vowed not to order a pullout stressing that Abyei belongs to the North. The South Sudan government said that it will not go to war over the oil-rich region.
South Sudan’s vice president Riek Machar on Monday agreed with his northern counterpart Ali Osman Taha to form a joint committee aimed at resolving the Abyei crisis.
But Taha rejected southern demands that the army withdraw.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in its discussion of Sudan today, saw trading of accusations between representatives of North and South Sudan.
"We went to Abyei to put the house in order and to stop the SPLA from committing violations," Sudan’s Permanent Representative Dafalla Al-Haj Osman said. He added that the north’s military presence in Abyei would be "temporary."
Ezekiel Gathouth, the south Sudan government’s envoy to the United States and United Nations, called the north’s incursion into Abyei "a most serious violation" of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA).
"Khartoum’s actions over the last week represent a grave escalation that risks the resumption of armed conflict between the parties" he said.
Gathouth also criticized the UN forces in Abyei for not protecting civilians when the north’s troops entered Abyei. The UN troops "reportedly remained inside their compound during the military attacks," he said.
International organizations have warned of a humanitarian crisis in the central region after widespread looting and burning broke out and tens of thousands of residents fled on foot down roads turned to mud in seasonal rains.
The U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman said a field visit found Abyei town "virtually emptied" of its estimated population of 50,000 to 55,000.
The Sudanese foreign ministry today issued a statement detailing a proposal to resolve the impasse over Abyei but does not include SAF withdrawal.
According to the statement Khartoum proposes maintaining the status quo through allowing SAF to remain north of the Bahr el-Arab and SPLA to the south of it without participating in any administrative tasks until a final solution by the referendum.
A peacekeeping force would be deployed in Abyei of "African character" with joint units from SAF and SPLA along with police units.
The government also suggested granting responsibility for the region’s administration to the presidency before handing it over, on July 8, to the joint political-security committee that was previously agreed upon between the two sides.
The CPA promised Abyei residents a referendum over whether to join north or south, but that did not take place as neither could agree who was qualified to vote.
The South already voted last January in a separate referendum in favor of secession which will become official next July.