Tuesday, 28 June 2011

UN votes for Abyei peacekeepers as Southern Kordofan violence continues

The UN has voted to deploy peacekeepers to Abyei

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to send a 4,200-strong Ethiopian peacekeeping force to the disputed Sudanese territory of Abyei, in line with the agreement signed between Khartoum and Juba on 20th June.

The force will monitor the withdrawal of Sudanese troops from Abyei, who occupied the region's main town on 9th June after being attacked by groups with links to the south.

The resolution establishes a new UN peacekeeping force, which will be called the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). It will have a mandate to protect civilians and “to protect the Abyei area from incursions by unauthorised elements,” according to the BBC.

Sudan's UN Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said northern troops would be withdrawn as soon as the Ethiopian troops had been deployed.

Abyei has been a crucial sticking point between the north and south as the country gets ready to split on 9th July. Oil-rich Abyei straddles the border and is claimed by both sides.

It was meant to have a referendum in January over whether it would join the south or remain with the north, but the vote was put off indefinitely due to disagreements over voter eligibility.

The southern Sudanese voted overwhelmingly to split from the north in a January referendum, established as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which brought Sudan's decades-long civil war to an end.

The US's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the passage of the Abyei resolution, but expressed deep concern at the continuing violence in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan.

"Tens of thousands of people have been driven from their homes, and there are reports of very serious human rights abuses and violence targeting individuals based on their ethnicity and political affiliation," Clinton said.

Heavy fighting broke out in the border state three weeks ago, and renewed violence began last Wednesday, 22nd June in Southern Kordofan's Nuba Mountains, home to Sudan's indigenous non-Arab Nuba people.

Many Nuba fought on side the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) during Sudan's civil war. While the civil war is usually categorised as a north-south battle, the fact that the Nuba, whose territory clearly lies within the north, fought on behalf of the south shows the situation to be far more complicated than it is often portrayed.

According to the Guardian, 16 people were killed and at least 32 injured in an aerial attack on Sunday 26th June in the Nuba mountains.

The aerial strikes, which have happened almost daily for the past three weeks, are said to have been carried out by Sudanese planes.

Senior Sudanese officers have told the African Union panel on Sudan, headed by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, that the strikes are intended to prevent the SPLA from resupplying the Nuba.

But others say the air strikes and other attacks have targeted individuals due to their ethnic or political affiliation, and some have called the situation 'ethnic cleansing'.

Nuba leader Abdel Aziz al-Hilu told the AU panel that over 3,000 people had disappeared, “either killed or their whereabouts are not known, either because they are Nuba or they are SPLA.”

The UN peacekeeping force in Sudan, UNMIS, has been ordered to withdraw from Southern Kordofan by 9th July, the date South Sudan will declare independence.

UNMIS bases have been attacked and on 17th June, a UN patrol was detained by government troops and subjected to a mock firing squad in the state capital, Kadugli. They were allegedly told "leave South Kordofan... we will kill you if you come back here.”

The latest report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the situation in Southern Kordofan had calmed in recent days.

But the report also suggested that northern authorities were forcing some of the thousands of displaced people to return to Kadugli against their will.

A “combination of incentives through assistance and intimidation was used to exert pressure on the displaced people to return to Kadugli,” the OCHA report said.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, a variety of insidious methods have been used, some of which have been detailed in an internal UN report. Sudanese intelligence agents pretending to be Red Crescent workers allegedly entered an UN-protected camp and ordered the displaced people to go to a stadium.

Humanitarian agencies movements have been restricted and facts are hard to verify, but reports of forcibly moving populations bears worrying resemblance to many of the well documented allegations made against Khartoum's actions in Darfur.

Indeed, one of the catalysts for the current problems in Southern Kordofan was the election of Ahmed Haroun as governor of the state in mid-May. Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur, and his election was protested heavily by the South's ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir is also wanted by the ICC, which has created considerable difficulties in arranging the ceremony marking the secession of South Sudan, due to take place in under two weeks.

The US's President Barack Obama has said he will only attend South Sudan's independence ceremony if Al-Bashir is not there.

Al-Tayyar Arabic daily newspaper in Khartoum has said this is the case with a number of world leaders.

“A number of European heads of state, including the French President Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister as well as the US President Barack Obama, have in principle welcomed the invitation to attend the South's independence ceremony, but they conditioned their appearance in Juba on the non-attendance of the president of the republic Omar Al-Bashir, pointing to the crimes with which he is charged by the International [Criminal] Court,” the paper quoted an anonymous southern official as saying.

Whether Al-Bashir will attend is not yet clear.

Sources: AFP, BBC News, Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian, Sudan Tribune

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