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U.N. Security Council delegation tours Darfur

Ongoing Darfur attacks and violent outbreaks in oil-rich central Abyei region are high priorities.

By Jonathan Adams / June 6, 2008

A top UN official said Wednesday that Sudan was "on the brink" of war, as forces from the north and south converged near a strategic, disputed oil town.

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The UN regional coordinator for South Sudan, David Gressley, told journalists that the military buildup near the town of Abyei in central Sudan was jeopardizing a shaky 2005 peace agreement, the BBC reports.

"There's a gradual escalation of forces on all sides at this point in time," Mr Gressley said.
Mr Gressley said he did not think either side wanted a war, at this point, but that the situation had to be de-escalated or it could unravel the entire peace process.

Fighting flared in mid-May between northern and southern forces in Abyei, which sits on disputed, oil-rich land. The 2005 peace agreement called for joint north-south patrols of the town but did not resolve the town's status. The Voice of America reported that the escalation in central Sudan is high on the agenda of a delegation from the UN Security Council that is now visiting the country.

The fighting, which began on May 13, resulted in widespread destruction in Abyei and the displacement of as many as 50,000 people.
[Salva Kiir, the regional president of southern Sudan] confirmed reports this week that the Khartoum government of President Omar al-Bashir is deploying more than 1,000 additional troops to the disputed region.
"I have already called upon him [President Bashir] to intervene to order his military commanders to pull out their forces from Abyei area," he said. "We are not going to fight them."

The Security Council delegation is also expected to press Sudan on ending a separate conflict in the western region of Darfur that is threatening to spill over into a Chad-Sudan border war.

The delegation arrived early Thursday in Darfur, according to the Associated Press. The UN passed a resolution almost a year ago to create an international peacekeeping force in Darfur, but Sudan's government has only allowed about one-third of the force to deploy. The delegation plans to press Sudan on allowing in the remaining force as one priority.

At the top of the list was speeding up deployment of the United Nations-Africa Union force that took over peacekeeping in January but has only gotten 9,000 of the 26,000 authorized troops on the ground, a key to helping protect civilians in the many camps for the displaced.
One stumbling block has been the Sudanese government's reluctance to allow non-African troops into the region - and on this issue the council got a piece of good news Wednesday.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers, co-leader of the council delegation, said [Nafie Alie Nafie, a Sudanese presidential adviser], promised that Thai and Nepalese battalions could deploy after Ethiopian and Egyptian troops arrive in Darfur.

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