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With secession looming, Sudanese agree to keep forces out of contested region

Supporters welcomed President Omar al-Bashir in Red Sea state. Violence has broken out along Sudan’s north-south border. Supporters welcomed President Omar al-Bashir in Red Sea state. Violence has broken out along Sudan’s north-south border. (Reuters)
Associated Press / June 21, 2011

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Leaders from north and south Sudan signed an agreement yesterday to demilitarize the disputed central region of Abyei and allow an Ethiopian peacekeeping force to move in, said a former South African president who is helping lead peace talks.

Thabo Mbeki said the agreement provides for the full demilitarization of Abyei, a fertile land near major oil fields that both north and south claim as their own. Troops from northern Sudan moved into the region last month, action that sent tens of thousands of people aligned with the south fleeing.

“The Sudan Armed Forces will pull out and will be deployed outside Abyei,’’ said Mbeki, who helped lead the talks in neighboring Ethiopia.

The agreement comes three weeks before the south is set to secede from the north and create the world’s newest country. Heavy violence has broken out along the north-south border in the run-up to the south’s independence declaration.

An Ethiopian peacekeeping force that is ready to deploy will move in to Abyei as soon as possible, Mbeki said. The UN Security Council will decide at a meeting in New York what the mandate and size of the Ethiopian force will be.

Shortly after the agreement was reached, Mbeki told the UN Security Council by video conference that both parties want the UN to move quickly to see the agreement implemented. Mbeki said urgent action would allow the displaced people of Abyei to return after military forces leave, allowing the humanitarian situation to be addressed.

The text of the agreement says the Ethiopian forces will deploy “as soon as authorized by the United Nations.’’ One brigade — typically around 4,000 troops — is to be deployed.

“It will also bring to an end this threat of violence, and actual violence in the area, so we are really hoping that [the] Security Council will look at this agreement as early as possible and take all the necessary decisions so that the various provisions in the agreement can be implemented,’’ Mbeki said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement and called on the parties to abide to its provisions.

Talks on recent hostilities by the northern military in the state of South Kordofan are set to begin today, Mbeki said.

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