North and south Sudan have signed an agreement to demilitarise the disputed Abyei region and allow in Ethiopian peacekeeping forces, said former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
South Sudan is due to break off into an independent country in less than three weeks and the question of who should control the fertile, oil-producing region has been one of the most contentious unresolved issues ahead of the split.
Khartoum seized Abyei’s main town on May 21, causing tens of thousands of people to flee the area, triggering an international outcry and raising fears the two sides could return to open conflict, Reuters reports.
Representatives of the south’s dominant party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and the Sudanese government have been meeting in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for more than a week in an attempt to hammer out a deal.
“The SPLM and the Sudanese government have signed an agreement on Abyei,” Mbeki, who has been helping guide talks between the two sides, told reporters in Addis Ababa.
“It provides for the demilitarisation of Abyei so that the Sudanese armed forces would withdraw and for the deployment of Ethiopian forces.”
He said the northern Sudanese military, the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Ethiopian officials would now meet to settle on a mandate for Ethiopian peacekeeping forces who will be deployed in the region.
The peacekeepers would go to Abyei as soon as they are authorised by the United Nations and would replace all military forces in the area, he said.
A police service would be established for the region, with the size and composition determined by a joint committee co-chaired by northern and southern officials, Mbeki added.
Southerners voted overwhelmingly to secede from the north in a January referendum that was the culmination of a 2005 peace deal ending decades of civil war.
Some 2 million people died in the conflict, fought over religion, ideology, ethnicity and oil.