Ethiopian peacekeepers begin arriving in Abyei


The first of 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers are scheduled to arrive in Sudan’s disputed Abyei region today, nearly three weeks after the United Nations authorised the creation of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) to monitor the demilitarised zone between Sudan and South Sudan.

Dina Mufti, spokesman for Ethiopia’s foreign affairs ministry, yesterday said that the troops began a weeklong overland journey on July 7. Mufti said the battalion will “definitely be operational” today. “I am confident that the peacekeeping force will fulfill its mission to satisfy all concerned bodies,” Mufti said.

Speaking on state-run Ethiopian Television on Wednesday, Logistics Main Department Head from the Ministry of National Defence, Major General Gezahagn Abera, said that necessary logistics had been transported to Abyei on July 8.

South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation following its independence on July 9. However, tensions between its northern neighbour remain, with the main issues being who possesses Abyei and the demarcation of borders.

In a power play ahead of Sudan’s split, Khartoum sent tanks and troops into Abyei on May 21, outraging the south, human rights groups and regional and global powers who called it a violation of the 2005 deal that ended Sudan’s long civil war.

The move followed an attack on a convoy of northern troops and UN peacekeepers which the north blamed on the south and which the UN said was likely to have been carried out by southern police or soldiers. As Khartoum moved in, tens of thousands of villagers fled south in a panicked exodus to escape looting and burning.

On June 27 the UN Security Council unanimously approved a US-drafted resolution authorizing deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian troops to Abyei for a six-month period.

The resolution established the new United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei, or UNISFA. Its adoption came a week after north and south Sudan signed a deal in Addis Ababa to demilitarise Abyei and let Ethiopian troops monitor the peace.

Although the resolution gives UNISFA the authority to use force in self-defence and to protect civilians and humanitarian aid, it does not call for UNISFA troops to monitor compliance with human rights laws, as most peacekeeping forces do.

Instead, the resolution “requests the Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) to ensure that effective human rights monitoring is carried out” and report the results to the council.

The resolution said the 15-nation council was “deeply concerned by the current situation in the Abyei Area, and by all acts of violence committed against civilians in violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law including the killing and displacement of … civilians.”

Under the African Union (AU) and UN missions in Africa, Ethiopian forces have served in peacekeeping missions in Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo.