By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
July 10, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) - The African Union has urged both President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan to immediately establish the Abyei Executive Council and the administration of the disputed border area.
The AU Commission chairperson, Jean Ping, made the calls while conveying a message to welcome the signing of the Terms of Reference for the Joint Military Observer Committee (JMOC) by the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) at its fifth meeting, which took place in Abyei town last week.
The Joint Military Observer Committee which comprises an equal number of members from both the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the South Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) is a security mechanism mandated to guarantee peace and security for the residents of Abyei.
According to AU, Ping also encouraged the two parties to take positive steps to establish the Abyei Police Service and the Inter-Governmental Task Force for Humanitarian Assistance to support the AJOC.
Ping stressed a need for the establishment of the Abyei Executive Council and the Abyei Area Administration if peace and security in Abyei is to be restored.
The Chairperson of the Commission expressed the continental bloc’s continued support to the Abyei Join Oversight Committee.
The disputed region of Abyei is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan.
The oil-rich area was due to hold a referendum on its future in January 2011 at the same time as South Sudan’s independence vote. However, the two sides could not agree on who could take part in the plebiscite.
Shortly before South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July last year SAF forcibly took control of Abyei town destroying almost all buildings in the area, after an alleged attack by southern forces on one of it’s convoys leaving the area.
Juba and Khartoum agreed to the deployment of 3,800 Ethiopian peacekeepers under a United Nations mandate but both sides did not remove their armed forces until a UN Security Council resolution in May this year threatened sanctions against the two nations.
Sudan has retained some forces around the areas oil fields but Abyei residents who were displaced last year have begun returning to the area.