By Senior Staff Writer and agency reports
The BBC is reporting that Ethiopia has offered to send peacekeepers to Sudan’s disputed border region of Abyei after its recent seizure by northern troops. It says analysts fear the Abyei dispute could reignite the civil war between the north and South Sudan, which is due to become independent in July.
Officials say the south has accepted the offer; the north is considering it. It comes after both sides agreed to set up a demilitarised zone along their border to be jointly patrolled. It is quoting Sudan expert Alex De Waal, who is has been working on the African Union-mediated deal as saying that negotiations about how it would work were ongoing.
Reliable sources within intelligence circles here in London say both the Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama are concerned about moves being made by the more powerful North Sudan army to consolidate the oil-rich region of Abyei. Both leaders are understood to have approached Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Uganda President Yoweri Museveni to offer assistance to the soon-to-be president of south Sudan Salva Kiir.
In the recent past, both Ethiopia and Uganda have led other Africa Union countries in propping up the fragile regime in Somalia with Uganda now the only country with the most troops in the war-torn country. The UN Security Council condemned the occupation of Abyei and called for the immediate withdrawal of northern troops from the oil-producing region also claimed by the south. At the moment the trust between Sudan and South Sudan is not really there but what is quite remarkable is that when the soldiers get together, they get down to business. The business-like and co-operative approach of the senior military officers on both sides gives a lot of reason for confidence that they will actually sort it out. But Sudan’s ambassador to the UN Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman has said it will do so only when new political and security arrangements have been agreed.
Meanwhile, North Sudanese President al-Bashir says his wants peacekeepers to leave its territory when South Sudan becomes independent in July. The request comes after UN chief Ban Ki-moon proposed a three-month extension to the force’s mandate while the north and south resolve outstanding territorial issues. But a senior official from South Sudan, Ezekiel Gatkuoth, said the UN should have a presence on both sides of the border. He welcomed its continued existence in the south, saying its main objective should be to avoid a security vacuum. “We were asking for [a] more than 7,000 UN peacekeeping force. Then we have asked for the UN to do a consultation with the governors of southern Sudan so that we can have a new mission with responsibility to monitor the border and also protect civilians,” he told the BBC’s World Today programme.
The BBC’s Barbara Plett in New York says it is not clear how the UN Security Council will respond to Khartoum’s request. Limiting peacekeepers to the south could complicate efforts to monitor the boundary, parts of which, including Abyei, are contested.
As the Security Council debated the UN’s mission in Sudan, Ethiopia said it would send peacekeepers to Abyei if both north and south made the request. “It is within our interests and that of the region to maintain stability in Sudan,” foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told Reuters news agency. Uganda President Yoweri Museveni is understandably eager to show the people of South Sudan that he will do whatever it takes to protect their young nation. Its former leader Gen Garang died in a helicopter accident while returning from a visit to President Museveni.
Juba is understood to have accepted the Ethiopian offer as the country’s Independence Day nears. Abyei is claimed by a southern group, the Dinka Ngok, and northern nomads, the Misseriya. Under the 2005 peace deal, which ended the 22-year civil war, Abyei was granted special status and a joint administration was set up in 2008 to run the area until a referendum decided its fate. That vote was due to take place in January, when the south decided to split from the north, but has now been postponed indefinitely.