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Joint Force to Deploy in Sudan's Disputed Oil-Rich Region

By VOA News
15 June 2008

Officials in Sudan say a joint north-south military force will begin deploying to the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei on Monday.

The commander of the new force, Valentino Tokmac, says the force will have equal numbers of troops from the Sudanese army and from the southern former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army. He said the force will number more than 600 troops.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and southern leader Salva Kiir agreed last week to replace northern and southern troops in the town with a new integrated unit.

The two also agreed to seek international arbitration to settle the dispute over Abyei and to give the United Nations free access to the area for the first time.

Clashes between forces of the northern-based government and the semi-autonomous south virtually destroyed Abyei last month and displaced tens of thousands of residents.

Analysts have warned the dispute over Abyei could jeopardize the 2005 peace agreement that ended Sudan's long-running north-south civil war. The north and south also remain split over wealth-and power-sharing issues, and the continued presence of northern troops in the south.

Southern Sudan is scheduled to hold a referendum in 2011 over whether to secede from the rest of the country.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AFP.

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