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SUDAN: Joint deployment to pave way for IDP returns

JUBA, 17 June 2008 (IRIN) - The expected deployment of a new Joint/Integrated Unit (JIU) battalion to the oil-rich Sudanese region of Abyei and the removal of separate contingents of northern and southern soldiers will pave way for the return of tens of thousands of people recently displaced by fighting, according to a senior official.

Conceived in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended more than two decades of civil war in Sudan, JIUs are made up of an equal number of troops from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the south's former rebels. JIUs fall under the command of the Joint Defence Board, an arm of the presidency.

"The Joint Defence Board met and came up with a clear plan for establishing the JIUs," Luka Biong, South Sudan’s minister for presidential affairs, said. "Abyei will be the only place where you have the JIUs in charge of the area. In other places you get the JIU with the SAF or the JIU with the SPLA."

"By 18 June, the JIU will be fully deployed in Abyei area," he added.

Information Minister Chang Changson said there would also be a joint police force from the southern and northern governments. "Once these steps are taken, then the IDPs [internally displaced persons] will return to Abyei," he said on 13 June.

At least 50,000 people fled their homes after fighting broke out between the SPLA and the SAF in Abyei in May. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the fighting sent the largely Dinka Malual and Dinka Ngok residents of Abyei fleeing southwards.

Most ended up in Twic County in Warrab State and Agok, but some headed to Aweil East in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State and Bentiu in Unity State.

The fighting also virtually destroyed the town. Bishop Antonio Menegazzo of El Obeid told reporters at the time that about 90 percent of the huts in Abyei had been destroyed.

On 8 June, the two parties agreed to resolve the conflict. They agreed to deploy the JIU within 10 days, re-deploy SAF and SPLA troops beyond the Abyei administrative area, grant the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) force free movement in the area and appoint new administrators for Abyei.

"The above security arrangements are expected to be in place before the end of June," OCHA said in a 13 June report. "Once they are in place, the displaced civilians are expected to return to their former homes."

The UN, it added, was planning to assist the displaced to return home. It would also assist those that may remain in Abyei South and Twic County areas. To scale up the humanitarian response, a US$7.7 million request has been forwarded to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

Meanwhile, various agencies and NGOs were providing different types of assistance to those affected by the conflict.

Chris Johnson, head of OCHA office in Abyei said once the deployment starts, a de-mining team would go in to clear any unexploded ordnance. "Once it [the area] is cleared, UN agencies will return and start watsan [water and sanitation projects], reconstruction, etc," she told IRIN in Khartoum.

"Sudan's Kashmir"

Described by analysts as "Sudan's Kashmir", Abyei has become one of the stumbling blocks to the implementation of the CPA.

The CPA contained a separate protocol on Abyei which granted the region a special administrative status. But many of the protocol's provisions were not properly followed up, and no agreement has been reached on the region's geographic boundaries.

Southern leaders say Khartoum is motivated by Abyei's oil revenues - estimated at US$529 million in 2007.

Khartoum denies this accusation. It also took issue with the appointment in December of the SPLM's unilateral appointment of an administrator for Abyei, Edward Lino.

Lino's appointment sparked clashes after local, pro-Northern Misseriya tribesmen rejected it and formed a group called the Abyei Liberation Front.

Other skirmishes have occurred since then, killing 75 people between December and January. In March, renewed clashes between the SPLA and Misseriya fighters displaced hundreds of civilians from their homes and raised tensions.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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