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Ethiopia begins deploying troops to disputed Abyei region

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

July 13, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) –The Ethiopian government has begun deploying its troops to monitor the troubled North - South Sudan frontier of Abyei region, a military official said on Wednesday.

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Citizens of Abyei flee during the conflict (AFP)

The decision to deploy peace keepers to the volatile region was reached after leaders from North and South Sudan - under the broker of the African Union – signed an agreement last month in Addis Ababa to fully demilitarise the central region and to allow an Ethiopian peacekeeping force to move in to monitor Abyei.

Following the agreement, the UN Security Council (UNSC) days later approved the deployment of a 4,200 strong Ethiopian peace keeping force to monitor the withdrawal of troops from Abyei.

Speaking on state-run Ethiopian Television, Logistics Main Department Head with the Ministry of National Defense, Major General Gezahagn Abera on Wednesday said that necessary logistics had been transported to Abyei on 8 July.

Abera said he is confident that the peacekeeping force will fulfil its responsibilities to the satisfaction of all concerned parties, citing previous missions in the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia has in the past deployed troops for similar missions in South Korea, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, and Democratic Republic Congo. It currently has also over 2,400 troops deployed in Darfur.

According to the UN resolution the Ethiopian force has the mission of demilitarising activities in and around Abyei and ensuring peace in the region for at least the next six months. It will be engaged mainly in protecting civilians, maintaining a buffer zone and also to create a peaceful environment that will allow a referendum to be conducted in the contested region of Abyei.

South Sudan officially became an independent state on 9 July 2011 after its citizens voted overwhelmingly to split from North. The vote came as a result of the peace agreement which ended the civil war in 2005. Another stipulation of the agreement was the right of the citizens of Abyei to a referendum. This has not yet happened. The area has been the site of conflict, with allegations that North Sudan is repopulating Abyei with members of the pro-Khartoum Misseriya ethnic group with a view to weighing a future vote in their favour.

North and South Sudan still need to engage in post-independence negotiations how to resolve other pending issues including oil revenue sharing, demarcation of the border and referendum.