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Abyei remains tense as UN, Sudanese Army disagree on troop presence

Despite the United Nations' insistence, the Sudanese Army is refusing to pull out of Abyei until Ethiopian peacekeeping forces are fully deployed.

By Laura HeatonGuest blogger, Amanda HsiaoGuest blogger / July 26, 2011

A handout picture released by the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) shows a Zambian soldier serving with the international peacekeeping operation on the ground during a patrol in the volatile region of Abyei on May 30, 2011.

Stuart Price/AFP/Newscom/File

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Attention to the situation in the disputed area of Abyei has been overshadowed by the worsening crisis to the northeast in the Nuba Mountains. In part, that may because of the agreement signed by Khartoum and Juba to remove their forces from the region and the UN Security Council’s authorization of a deployment of Ethiopian peacekeepers to secure the area. It seemed the situation was on the mend; with nearly 4,300 peacekeepers and police on their way to Abyei, surely the more than 100,000 displaced people would soon return home.

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Nearly one month into UNISFA’s six-month mandate, US and UN sources indicate about 300 to 500 peacekeepers have deployed. With the timeframe for full deployment uncertain, discrepancies have arisen over when the Sudan Armed Forces will be pulled back.

Speaking to news outlets this week, SAF spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad stated in no uncertain terms that the army will not redeploy until the full Ethiopian force is in place. “The Sudanese troops will withdraw from Abyei after the Ethiopians complete their deployment in the area," he said to AFP.

But that’s where significant disagreement arises. In New York last week, the head of UN peacekeeping Alain Le Roy said during a briefing, “all forces [in Abyei] were to withdraw by the first deployment of United Nations troops,” citing the language of the Addis Ababa agreement signed June 20 and the Security Council resolution. Overseeing the withdrawal would be one of the peacekeeping missions first tasks, he said.

However, the two agreements Le Roy mentioned are far less clear about the timeframe for SAF withdrawal than he suggested.

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