Ethiopia peacekeepers arrive in Sudan

2011-07-21 21:29

Khartoum - Ethiopian peacekeepers have started to arrive in Sudan's flashpoint Abyei region and will begin operations by the end of the week, official media reported on Thursday, paving the way for the army's withdrawal.

"A brigade of Ethiopian peacekeepers will arrive in the Abyei region later this week... Around 4200 troops have already travelled [to Sudan] overland in the past week," an Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying by the official Suna news agency.

"This mission, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations, will start peacekeeping operations in the Abyei area by the end of this week," he added.

The UN Security Council ordered the Ethiopian peacekeeping force to the bitterly contested Sudanese border region last month in a bid to douse tensions between north and south in the run-up to the July 9 partition.

The Sudanese army occupied Abyei town and the surrounding area in May, prompting more than 110 000 ethnically southern residents to flee south, according to the United Nations.

The Ethiopian force is responsible for monitoring the withdrawal of Sudanese troops, protecting civilians and establishing the peaceful conditions for holding a referendum on Abyei's future status, which had been due to take place last January but was cancelled.

"The Sudanese troops will withdraw from Abyei after the Ethiopians complete their deployment in the area," army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad told AFP.

Speaking to the southern army on Tuesday, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir insisted, for the first time since his country formally declared independence from the north, that Abyei belonged to and would eventually rejoin the south.

"Abyei belongs to us. Whether [Sudanese President] Omar al-Bashir likes it or not, one day Abyei will rejoin the south," he said.

For his part, shortly after the Sudanese army's occupation of the region in May, Bashir said Abyei was "north Sudanese land," which he was "prepared for a new war" over.

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