Addis Ababa — The 4,200-strong Ethiopian brigade due to be deployed on a proposed peace-keeping mission in Sudan's troubled Abyei region will focus on civilian protection, according to the Ethiopian government.
"Ethiopia will deploy one brigade of troops to Abyei after both Northern and Southern Sudan fully withdraw their forces from the region," said Ambassador Dina Mufti of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "The troops will give priority to keep the peace and security of civilians living in the region, along with the infrastructure."
On 23 June, the USA submitted a draft UN resolution authorizing a peace-keeping mission of Ethiopian troops to be deployed in Abyei on the basis of a 20 June agreement between the Sudanese government and Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
According to the agreement, signed in Addis Ababa by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir Maryadit, Northern and Southern forces will be replaced by an Interim Security Force for Abyei (ISFA), composed of Ethiopian troops.
Under the agreement, ISFA is expected to pave the way for a temporary administration and police force for Abyei, pending a resolution of the status of the area.
Under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended decades of civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan, the Abyei area is administered under the two parties' joint presidency. Its status after the CPA expires on 9 July, when the South gains full independence, was supposed to have been determined by a referendum.
However, disagreements over the voting rights of northern Misseriya pastrolists who, unlike the mostly pro-South Ngok Dinka, are not full-time residents of the area, but who have grazing rights there, has prevented this referendum from taking place.
Since fighting broke out in Abyei in late May, the UN says the situation "has remained tense and unpredictable".
At least 102,000 people have been displaced from Abyei since May, according to a report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has expressed concern over the situation in Abyei and highlighted "the need for shelter options".
The troops will give priority to keep the peace and security of civilians living in the region, along with the infrastructure
Southern Sudan is scheduled to become an independent country on 9 July although North and South have yet to resolve several border issues. Nevertheless, the government of Sudan and the Juba-based SPLM government have promised to demilitarize the border region of Abyei and allow the entry of the Ethiopian peace-keeping force under UN auspices.
However, this agreement is still requires ratification by the UN and the African Union.
"The resolution is still in process," said Dina. "And we expect the UN Security Council and AU Peace and Security Council to pass it in time so that the Ethiopian troops could go on the peace-keeping mission to Abyei as stated in the agreement."
According to the agreement, ISFA will be mandated to maintain peace and security in the region, protect Abyei's borders, ensure the security of civilians, and organize a local police force.
North and South agreed that the police would comprise the Ngok Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya ethnic groups.
An Ethiopian general will be in command of ISFA. "This was our condition when we gave consent to send troops to the area and the two parties have agreed to that," Dina said.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]