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SPLM’s Luka Biong rejects conditional withdrawal of troops from Abyei

October 4, 2011 (JUBA) - Luka Biong Deng, a senior member of the South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on Monday rejected the conditional withdrawal of the troops from the contested region of Abyei.

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SPLM’s Luka Biong, August 4, 2011 (Enough Project)

Biong said the government of North Sudan is playing on what it believes is the ignorance of the people of Sudan and South Sudan regarding the terms of the June Agreement on Abyei signed in Addis Ababa.

Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) spokesman, Sawarmi Khaled Saad, recently told AFP “The Sudanese troops will withdraw from Abyei after the Ethiopians complete their deployment in the area.”

“There is no ambiguity here”, said Biong, quoting the June Agreement: “the redeployment of Sudanese military forces (Sudan Armed Forces and Sudan People’s Liberation Army) from Abyei Area, immediately consequent on the deployment of an Interim Security Force for Abyei (ISFA) composed of Ethiopian troops.”

He said that the ISFA forces have deployed over 1,800 soldiers, outnumbering the SAF forces and if the UN wishes to "supplement these forces and their equipment after the rainy season that is up to them, but their capacity to protect civilians is undeniable,"

"The specific force strength was never agreed to by the parties or made a precondition to the SAF and SPLA withdrawal from the area,” explained Biong.

Biong resigned his ministerial position in the Khartoum government in May due to the "war crimes" being committed in Abyei.

He noted that the security arrangement section of the June Agreement states, “With the exception of ISFA, the Abyei Area shall be demilitarized. Any SAF and SPLA forces shall redeploy out of the Area. Henceforth, all other forces, apart from the ISFA shall remain outside of the boundaries of Abyei Area, as defined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.”

“The agreement exists and there is nothing that preconditions the withdrawal of armed forces on either the status of the Abyei Administration or some fiction regarding what constitutes the “complete deployment” of the ISFA forces. Also, nothing in the provisions of the Agreement regarding the formation of the Abyei Administration (Section I) or the mandate of the UNISFA forces (Section V) mention SAF or SPLA withdrawals – not expressly or even impliedly”, said Biong.

He rejected a statement attributed to Saaf alleging that “a withdrawal without the complete deployment of the Ethiopian troops would disrupt Abyei’s administration" and argued that the only thing disrupting the administration and the residents of Abyei area is the presence of SAF forces.

Biong explained that Khartoum’s refusal to present a nomination for the speaker of the Abyei Area Council that is a resident of the area and member of the Ngok Dinka community is the reason for the delay in the formation of Abyei Administration.

He said that although it was not explicitly mentioned in the agreement, that there was a “gentleman’s agreement” made between the North Sudan Sudan president Omar al-Bashir and the Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi, that the position of the speaker of Abyei Area legislative council should remain the SPLM’s and a consensus was reached to give it a nominee of the National Congress Party from area, preferably a member of Dinka community. 

Biong accused the Khartoum government of trying to deceive the people to justify the illegal presence of its forces in Abyei area and that they believe that the presence of its forces in Abyei will prevent residents of Abyei from returning to their homes.

The UN estimates that 100,000 people were displaced by the conflict in Abyei.
Biong said that the SAF forces in Abyei “have no security function” since the deployment of UNISFA.

He asked the AU, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the UN Security Council to call upon Bashir to immediately withdraw his forces from Abyei and to allow humanitarian access to the area.