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Ethiopia: UN force striving to resolve Abyei dispute despite presence of armies

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

November 6, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) – The Ethiopian government said on Saturday that its brigade of peacekeeping forces deployed in Abyei, a territory claimed by both north Sudan and South Sudan, is exerting maximum efforts to successfully carry out their mandated mission.

The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), when fully deployed will comprise of a 4,200 strong force. It was established by the UN Security Council in June, shortly after north and South Sudan agreed to demilitarise the region and allow in a third party to monitor the flashpoint area.

The interim force, which is authorised to use force to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in Abyei has been operating since August 23 but is still not fully deployed. This has been used as an excuse by Khartoum to now pull out of the area, in contradiction of an agreement signed by the sides in Addis Ababa.

Speaking to pro-government Walta Information Center (WIC), Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry spokesperson, ambassador Dina Mufti said that the Interim Security Force is effectively attempting to end tensions between north and South Sudan over the oil-producing region, which is claimed by both sides.

“Ethiopia is a credible partner for both parties so that the peacekeeping mission is playing its role based on the agreement reached between both North and South Sudan,” he said.

The ambassador said that the Ethiopian brigade is currently facilitating the establishment of a joint interim administration and an oversight committee in Abyei from both north and south.

South Sudan became independent in July after a referendum, agreed as part of a 2005 peace deal. The status of Abyei according to the agreement, was to be resolved by a separate referendum. However, it did not take place as the two sides could not agree on would be allowed to vote.

Mufti further said that activities are well underway to establish a police service in Abyei region from Dinga and Dingaya community.

The Ethiopian official said he is confident that the mission in Sudan will be accomplished successfully, citing the country’s past experience in other African missions. As per a colonial era agreement Abyei remains in north Sudan, despite most of its residents - the Dinka Ngok tribe - being aligned to South Sudan.

“Ethiopia has a commendable record in peacekeeping missions in Liberia, Burundi and Rwanda so that I am confident that the mission will be accomplished in a good manner,” he remarked.

Ethiopia has so far deployed just 2,780 of it 4,200 troops in Abyei. Hundreds more are expected to be sent in the weeks to come, Sudan Tribune has learnt.

Despite pledges from both north and South Sudan to pull their forces out of Abyei by September 30 this has not yet been implemented making operations difficult for the peacekeeping force, which has no civilian element.

The UN Security Council on Friday urged the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to immediately and unconditionally pull out their armed forces from the contested area.

’The Members of the Security Council underscore that there were no preconditions for the implementations of the agreements signed by the parties including the withdrawal of forces,’ the Council said in a statement.

The 15-member UN body urged both Sudan and South Sudan to implement agreements on Abyei ’in spirit and letter.’ It urged them to extend their full cooperation to UNISFA.

The council encouraged UNISFA to increase its patrols and enhance its air mobility.

(ST)