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Ethiopia to deploy over 3,000 peacekeeping force in Abyei - Ambassador

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

June 21, 2011(ADDIS ABABA) - Ethiopia said on Tuesday that it will send a peace keeping mission to the Sudan’s contested region of Abyei after North and South Sudan on Monday signed an agreement in Addis Ababa-agreement to fully demilitarise the central region and allow in an Ethiopian peacekeeping force.

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Arrival of 140 Ethiopian UN contingent at Bujumbura airport, Burundi on 02 september 2004. (photo UN)

The two Sudanese sides agreed in principle on the need for a third party to monitor the ill-defined border between North and South Sudan as the later approaches independence on 9 July.

According to the latest agreement signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia which is seen by both North and South Sudan as honest broker will deploy a peacekeeping force of over 3,000 soldiers to ensure border security, including policing a demilitarised border zone that the sides have already agreed to.

“Ethiopia will deploy one brigade - around 3,200 - troops to Abyei after both North and South Sudan fully withdraw their forces from the region’’ Ambassador Dina Mufti, Ethiopia foreign affairs spokesperson told Sudan Tribune.

North Sudan’s military took the oil-producing area by force in May in response to an attack on its convoys that was being escorted by the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). The South and the UN Security Council condemned the Sudan Armed Forces occupation of the contested region.

“On the agreement the African Union (AU) and the United Nations are asked to make sure the Abyei region gets demilitarised to allow Ethiopian forces move in” he added.

Both Khartoum and Juba have commended the Ethiopian government for the role it played in the peace process.

"Particularly the Ethiopian government has been instrumental in bringing in the two sides together and showing readiness to take honest responsibility of being there to secure Abyei and make sure the two sides are going to accept," a representative from North Sudan told journalists right after the agreement was signed.

"The role of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi personally and the role of the Ethiopian government has been very crucial to this process," he added.

Representatives from South Sudan similarly hailed the Ethiopian government for the relentless and diplomatic efforts it exerted to peacefully resolve the conflict.

The agreement comes less than three weeks before the South Sudan will become an independent state making it the world’s 193rd nation.

Over 100,000 people are estimated to have fled the region following the SAF’s attack and occupation of Abyei. Like the South, Abyei was supposed to hold a referendum to determine its future. The South referendum went ahead in January where 98 percent of voters opted to secede from the North.

Abyei’s referendum did not go ahead as South Sudan refused to let the Misseriya - who are alligned to North Sudan and use the area for grazing for part of the year - to take part.

The signed agreement was welcomed at the UN Security Council when the news was first announced by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, who is lead the peace talks and negotiations around South Sudan’s separation, on behalf of the African Union.