Home | News    Tuesday 8 April 2008

U.N. has 14 days to verify troops build-up in Sudan’s disputed Abyei

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April 7, 2008 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan’s former foes have granted UN peacekeeping mission 14 days of unhindered access to Sudan’s oil-rich Abyei region to help stem escalating tensions which threaten to undermine a landmark 2005 north-south peace deal.

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Jasbir Singh

Tensions have risen in Abyei since a prominent south Sudan politician, Edward Lino, arrived late last month on a mission that the north condemned as a unilateral appointment of a local administrator without presidential approval.

"Because of the tensions that have arisen... (both sides) lifted their restrictions for a period of 14 days," UN force commander Lieutenant General Jasbir Singh Lidder told a news conference in Khartoum on Monday.

Government forces previously prevented access north of Abyei town and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army impeded access from the south, denying the UN a "coherent picture," the commander added.

Since last week both the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the National Congress Party (NCP) have accused each other of moving troops into Abyei town, the central Sudanese state’s capital.

While Abyei posed a big challenge to implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Lidder said the problem should not be solved through the military.

"It’s a political issue which has to be resolved politically," Singh said. "None of these political claims should manifest in any military muscle flexing on the ground."

"It requires a lot of ... flexibility from both parties." He added.

Singh said the mission had verified almost 97 percent of the northern army’s redeployment north but only 10.8 percent of the SPLM’s.

The 2005 accord laid out a timetable for the separate north and south armies to withdraw to their respective sides of the 1956 border, which the U.N. mission should monitor.

Underlining mediation difficulties, even those figures are hotly disputed by both sides with the SPLM saying some northern troops stayed in the south hoping to reintegrate into society. However they kept their arms as the demobilisation programme has not yet begun.

The SPLM says the original figure it gave the United Nations was too high and thousands of troops moved during the rainy season unverified by the peacekeepers.

They also refuse to move their troops out of two central areas until the presidency in Khartoum issues a decree to determine how many troops from both sides can remain, as the deal prescribes.

Singh said the main problem was the north-south border had not yet been mapped, creating disputes over where troops should redeploy to.

Under the 2005 deal ending the 20-year conflict the south should get 42 percent of Abyei’s oil wealth. But the SPLM says it has received nothing, putting the lost revenue at more than $1 billion.

(ST)

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters

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