In a rare declaration of good news, Khartoum and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement reached agreement Monday on a plan to deploy an armored brigade of several thousand Ethiopian peacekeepers to the disputed area of Abyei, Sudan, where they will replace troops from the rival camps and keep the peace.
Last month, Khartoum’s army, backed by pro-government militia, seized control of Abyei, driving more than 100,00 residents from the area and looting and destroying their property. The Sudanese assault exposed the weakness of the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission, whose commander ordered Zambian blue helmets to wait out the attack in their bunker, and drew warnings from the White House that any prospects of improved relations with the United States were in jeopardy.
But today’s accord, struck with the help of U.N. and African mediation, relieved international pressure on Khartoum, even as its forces continued on the offensive in a series of highly charged flashpoints of Blue Nile State and South Kordofan, where more than 75,000 civilians were forced from their homes. It also made it clear that Sudan’s leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who stands charged by an international prosecutor of committing genocide in Darfur, would again be central to any resolution of the crisis.
The latest surge in violence poses the greatest challenge to date to a landmark U.S.-brokered 2005 peace deal, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, that ended Africa’s deadliest and longest running civil wars and set the path to the south drive for independence. It threatens to plunge the country into a renewed civil war just weeks before the south scheduled its declaration its independence on July 9. In a sign of the deeping tensions, the U.N.’s special representative in Sudan, Haile Menkerios, warned the U.N. council that fighting was now spreading to Jau in Unity state southern Sudan.
This morning, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the pact on Abyei and vowed to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the deployment of the Ethiopian force. At the same time, Rice highlighted reports that Khartoum’s forces may be committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"Unfortunately, the situation in Abyei is by no means the only crisis facing the people of Sudan," Rice told the council in a public meeting on the crisis. "On June 5, violence broke out in multiple areas of Southern Kordofan, including its capital, Kadugli. The reports my government has been receiving on the ongoing fighting are horrifying…Security services and military forces have reportedly detained and summarily executed local authorities, political rivals, medical personnel, and others."
Rice also scolded The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, which has been accused of triggering the violence in Abyei by opening fire in May on a U.N. convoy escorting Khartoum’s troops through Abyei. Rice voiced concern that southern forces have also breached the border of Southern Kordofan, in violation of the CPA. She said the U.S. is "deeply concerned" by reports that the SPLM "Have threatened the safety of person of Arab origin in Southern Kordofan, including U.N. staff."
But she claimed that Khartoum bore the greatest responsibility for the latest crisis, citing its decision early this month to break up SPLA units in South Kordofan without having reached a negotiated settlement on their fate. She cited Khartoum’s use of aerial bombardment of civilian targets, its cut off of supplies of food, water, medicine and other basic humanitarian supplies into Kadugli, denying U.N. access to needy locals, and even threatening to shoot U.N. aircraft out of the sky.
"The government of Sudan can prevent this crisis from escalating further by immediately stopping its military efforts to disarm the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Southern Kordofan and by focusing on diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict," she said.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the south’s representative to the United States and the United Nations, told the council that his government regretted the shooting incident against the U.N. convoy in Abyei, but said Khartoum’s response was "wholly disproportionate." He pressed the U.N. to share its "more detailed reporting" on Sudanese rights violations in Abyei. He also warned that the "situation in South Kordofan risks degenerating into ethnic cleansing and possible genocide."
For his part, Sudan’s U.N. envoy Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said the north acted in Abyei and South Kordofan to halt "horrendous violations’ by southern forces and that his government was prepared to discuss arrangements for humanitarian aid workers to gain access to the displaced.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the chief negotiator for the Abyei deal, said the accord would result in the "demilitarization of Abyei and create the condition for the return of tens of thousands of civilians to return to their homes. He urged the council to act swiftly to authorize the new force, which would serve under U.N. command, and be funded by the United Nations.
Mbkei said he would now turn his attention in the coming days to negotiating a cessation of hostilities in Southern Kordofan. He also expressed optimism wide-ranging talks over the relationship between Khartoum and the south could be sewn up by the end of the month. Those talks are grappling with range of vexing matters – including accords on the sharing of oil revenues, demarcation of the border between the north and south, and security in a demilitarized zone along the border.
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