UN Security Council demands Sudan withdraw from disputed region

Fri May 18, 2012 7:08am GMT

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council demanded on Thursday that Sudan immediately and unconditionally withdraw troops from the disputed Abyei border region but Khartoum pledged only to do so after a joint military observer body was created for the area.

The 15-member council renewed a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Abyei, a region containing fertile grazing land that is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, and expressed deep concern at delays in establishing an Abyei Area Administration.

Khartoum took Abyei in May last year - triggering the exodus of tens of thousands of civilians - after an attack on a Sudanese army convoy from the south.

There are 3,800 Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei after the council initially authorized the deployment last June.

South Sudan withdrew its 700-strong police force from Abyei last week but Sudan's deputy U.N. envoy, Idris Ismail Faragalla Hassan, on Thursday criticized the move as the wrong approach.

"The withdrawal should take place simultaneously and it should be monitored by a body agreed upon by the two parties," Hassan told reporters. "What happened is that the government of South Sudan took a piecemeal approach, not the comprehensive approach that the government of Sudan is calling for."

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July, six months after a referendum agreed under a 2005 peace deal, ending decades of civil war that killed more than 2 million people. A referendum also had been planned for Abyei to decide if it would join the north or the south but was never held because the sides cannot agree on who can participate.

Hassan said former South African President Thabo Mbeki, head of a high-level AU panel given the job of resolving the north and south disputes, was in Khartoum on Thursday to meet with Sudanese officials and that positive results could be expected.   Continued...

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses the South Sudan Legislative Assembly in Juba, August 27, 2008. REUTERS/Tim McKulka/UNMIS/Handout
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