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Ethiopia will "consider" deploying peace force to Sudan’s Abyei - official

June 1, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) – Ethiopia on Wednesday showed willingness to deploy peace-keeping forces to the disputed border region of Abyei to act as buffer between the armies of North and South Sudan.

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Military observers from Namibia serving with the international peacekeeping operation is seen during a patrol in the region of Abyei (UNMIS)

Ethiopia’s sign of interest comes after both north and south appeared to agree to set up a demilitarized zone along their border to be jointly patrolled. But after the initiative was announced by the African Union, a spokesperson from Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party played the down its significance saying it was one of many proposals being considered.

Addis Ababa said it will consider dispatching peace keepers to the region if asked by both parties.

North Sudan’s army occupied oil-producing Abyei on May 21 in contravention of a 2005 peace deal between north and South Sudan. Although South Sudan’s president has stated it will not return to war over the occupation of Abyei, the possibility of a return to north-south conflict is of concern to Sudan’s neighbouring countries.

Ethiopia’s foreign affairs spokesperson Ambassador Dina Mufti, told Sudan Tribune that “both north and south Sudanese are seeking deployment of an external and neutral force [to a border buffer zone] accepted by both sides.”

“If the request comes from North and south Sudan, Ethiopia will consider of offering peace keepers to Abyei region. This is because it is Ethiopia’s long-term interest of seeing lasting peace and stability in both north and south Sudan and at the entire region as a whole,” the Ethiopian spokesman said.

Mufti said that although Ethiopia had not received any official request from either North or South Sudan but considering the behind the scenes discussions they expected to be asked to send troops to the region.

“This is expected however to my knowledge the Ethiopian government has not yet received such a request,” he said.

The Ethiopian official denied rumors that the horn of Africa country is already deploying thousands of its soldiers to Abyei.

“I can’t confirm that. That is not the case now. Ethiopia’s position at this point is it will look into a possible request of peace force if only comes from the two Sudanese sides’’ he stressed.

Ethiopia has cordial relations with both North and South Sudan and is seen as a neutral player from both sides.

The northern army have said they will not leave the region until a referendum is held to decide whether Abyei will join north or south Sudan. As part of a 2005 peace South Sudan voted to separate from the north in January, however a simultaneous plebiscite in Abyei did not go ahead. The two parties to the peace deal could not agree on who was allowed to vote.

On Wednesday South Sudan’s army rejected a northern proposal that the administration of Abyei will be rotated until a referendum can be held.