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Sudanese from border region skeptical of newest Abyei agreement

The thousands of Sudanese civilians who fled Abyei last month are wary about returning because they doubt the staying power of the most recent agreement to bring peace.

By Laura HeatonGuest blogger / June 27, 2011

A patrol from the international peacekeeping operation passes a destroyed UN truck that was part of a convoy transporting northern soldiers out of the Abyei area in this handout picture released by the United Nations Mission in Sudan. The operation was as part of an agreement between the north and the south to help demilitarise and reduce tension in the area.

Stuart Price/Reuters/UNMIS

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In the wake of the impotent response from UN peacekeepers to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) bombing and storming of Abyei last month, sending tens of thousands of civilians fleeing, optimism in reaction to the latest Abyei agreement was measured. While international leaders and diplomats tried to sound upbeat, congratulating the northern and southern governments for “taking this step toward peace,” people from the displaced communities voiced heavy skepticism about this new paper agreement.

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Most notably, the deal signed in Addis Ababa calls for the deployment of an interim security force – Sudan’s third peacekeeping mission – and the withdrawal of all other armed forces from the area. It explicitly does not address the deeply rooted issues that have prompted some to call the disputed territory the Kashmir or West Bank of Sudan. The agreement should – if it is implemented to the letter – essentially return Abyei to the untenable deadlock pre-SAF invasion. An agreement signed three years ago after the attack by SAF forces and government-backed militias on Abyei town in 2008 served a similar purpose, deflecting final resolution to a later date and a different body. But this time, no timeline has been laid out for a political resolution and displaced Ngok Dinka residents may be more wary to return.

“The [2008] Road Map [agreement] was accepted because it was temporary and it was needed to break the deadlock,” said Kon Manyiet, a former minister in the Abyei administration, speaking to Enough by phone from Turalei. “We were waiting for the final outcome from the [Permanent Court of Arbitration], so we accepted. But today, what are we waiting for? There is no timeframe. It’s supposed to be temporary until they find a final solution, but when are they going to find a solution?”

Aid organizations responding to the humanitarian fallout from last month’s attack are still concentrating on delivering basic services to the displaced while contending with an ongoing fuel shortage and washed out roads. A representative of one UN agency working in Agok and Turalei, just south of Abyei, said that they haven’t yet begun preparations for the return. Their relief activities largely follow the lead of the displaced, and Monday’s agreement hasn’t yet improved the prospect of returning to Abyei for those on the ground.

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