June 27, 2011 (LONDON) - The UN Security Council voted on Monday in favour of the formation of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) – a 4,200 strong army of Ethiopian troops who will carry out a peace keeping mission in the conflict-ridden contested region of Abyei.
- People of Abyei call upon the UN (Reuters)
The vote, originally scheduled for the weekend, mandates a force of “a maximum of 4,200 military personnel, 50 police personnel and appropriate civilian support” for six months, authorised with “the use of force to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in Abyei”.
The purpose of the force is to oversee the deployment of humanitarian aid and the protection of civilians; “henceforth, the Abyei area shall be demilitarized from any forces other than UNISFA and the Abyei Police Service,” reads the resolution.
The UNISFA also has to provide de-mining assistance, and facilitate the free movement of humanitarian personnel.
The Ethiopian troops are authorised, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to take “the necessary actions” to protect UN and UNISFA personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, protect civilians in Abyei under imminent threat of physical violence and protect the area from incursions by unauthorised elements, among other tasks.
On 21 May North Sudan’s army occupied Abyei after a skirmish reported involving South Sudanese troops and the UN. Approximately 100,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.
On the 20 June the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the National Congress Party signed temporary agreements for the Administration and Security of the Abyei Area in Addis Ababa. .
The United States welcomed the vote of a UN Security Council resolution authorising the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers to the volatile region. The draft resolution was prepared by the US envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice.
"Abyei has been a source of regional tension for many years, as the world witnessed last month when Sudanese Armed Forces forcibly took control of the region, resulting in widespread displacement and looting," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement released today.
Clinton called the Security Council’s move "a critical step" in implementing the June 20 agreement signed by the parties in Sudan, whereby the Sudanese Armed Forces will withdraw from the Abyei region along with southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army forces there.
If fully deployed the 4,200-member force will be four times bigger than the current UN force in Abyei composed mainly from Zambian, Namibian and Pakistani peacekeepers.
Tensions have been increasing in Sudan’s border regions in the run-up to the independence of South Sudan, scheduled for 9 July. In 2005 North and South Sudan ended 22 years of civil war with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). A stipulation of the CPA was the opportunity for the South Sudanese to vote in a plebiscite. This was conducted in January 2011 and the South Sudanese voted in favour of secession.
Another stipulation of the CPA was the right for the citizens of Abyei to decide their statehood. Crucial to this is who is eligible to vote. There are suspicions that the attacks on Abyei were part of plot by North Sudan to redress the balance of the population of the region in their favour – by encouraging re-population of the area with ethnic groups aligned with Khartoum.
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has been subject to criticism for its action in Abyei during the outbreak of violence. General Babacar Gaye, the UN peacekeeping department’s top military adviser, found that "we could have and should have had more visibility to deter any violence against civilians," a spokesman said.
The violence continues in neighbouring South Kordofan, which lies North of the North-South border but with its on indigenous branch of the SPLA. With 60,000 displaced, alleged bombing raids and house-to-house executions based on ethnicity and political affiliation the population there are in dire need of improved UN support.