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North and South Sudan Agree to International Arbitration

By Derek Kilner
09 June 2008

The partners in Sudan's power-sharing government have agreed to a set of measures to resolve a dispute over the oil-rich Abyei area, along the North-South border. As Derek Kilner reports for VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the agreement follows a series of clashes last month that displaced tens of thousands from Abyei town.

Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir and vice-president Salva Kiir, who is also president of the semi-autonomous government of southern Sudan, signed the agreement late Sunday in Khartoum.

The United Nations says several days of clashes between the northern Sudan Armed Forces and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army displaced up to 90,000 people last month.

The agreement is intended to allow for the return of those displaced by the fighting, as well as others still displaced by the north-south civil war that ended in 2005.

The agreement also calls for the establishment of an administrative authority for the area, which has been without a governing structure since the 2005 peace agreement, and the replacement of northern and southern troops by so-called "joint integrated units" composed of troops from both sides, along with police forces.

In addition, the two sides have agreed to an international arbitration process to determine the boundaries of Abyei area. Vice President of Southern Sudan Riek Machar told VOA that the two sides have not yet agreed on an arbitrator, but that it will likely be one of the major international arbitration organizations based in the United States or Europe.

Both sides have agreed in the past to many of the measures in the current deal - including a new administration and deploying joint military units - with little success. But Machar says he is confident about the agreement.

"The mood yesterday was celebration by citizens of the area and also by the authorities representing the SPLM and the National Congress, the two partners in powers. I think it will be implemented," he said.

Abyei, which contains much of Sudan's oil reserves and lies on the north-south border, has been a point of contention throughout the peace process. The 2005 agreement established an international commission to determine the areas boundaries but the northern National Congress Party has rejected its findings.

Residents of Abyei are set to vote in 2011 on whether to join the north or the south, at the same time as southern residents decide in a separate referendum on whether to secede from northern Sudan.

Meanwhile, at least 14 southern Sudanese troops were killed last week in an attack on a camp by the Ugandan Lords Resistance Army near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Machar, who has been facilitating peace negotiations in southern Sudan between the rebels and the Ugandan government, criticized the assault.

"This is an unfortunate attack, we condemned it," he said. "I have requested Jospeh Kony to explain to me why this happened when they know that the government of southern Sudan has done good work for them. So we were surprised by the fact that his forces attacked the very area that used to feed his own forces. So I am waiting for Joseph Kony to give me an explanation for why this happened.

The attack followed an announcement that troops from the Democratic Republic of Congo would launch an operation against the Lords Resistance Army, with support from Uganda, southern Sudan, and the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo, if the rebel leader Joseph Kony does not return to the talks.

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