The top United Nations peacekeeping official today reported that more than 500 troops with the new UN mission in the disputed Abyei area of Sudan have been deployed and both of the contesting sides appear committed to avoiding combat and willing to withdraw in favour of the blue helmets.
But Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told a meeting of the Security Council that "deployment difficulties" in working with the Sudanese Government have left some of the troops facing a "critical food shortage."
Last month the Security Council established, for an initial six months, the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), after violence broke out in the town and surrounding areas which are contested by both north and south, forcing more than 100,000 people to flee.
The Council acted a week after representatives from the Sudanese Government and their counterparts from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), representing South Sudan, reached an agreement that provides for temporary administrative arrangements for Abyei and the withdrawal of troops from both sides.
Mr. Le Roy's briefing follows a report to the Council by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on UNISFA.
"I am pleased to report that as of yesterday, 521 of the authorized 4,200 military personnel in UNISFA have been deployed," Mr. Le Roy said adding that he expected to have an operating capacity of 1,200 troops by the end of July.
"While the security situation in Abyei remains tense," he said, "both sides appear committed to avoiding an escalation of violence and ready to cooperate with UNISFA."
He said the blue helmets had made contacts with both sides and they each said they were willing to withdraw upon the deployment of UNISFA.
"However, the deployment is facing difficulties as we work with the Government of Sudan to clarify the use of the El Obeid logistic base," which had been part of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), whose mandate ended when South Sudan became independent on 9 July.
As a result, he said, some troops and cargo have been stranded in the Southern Kordofan state capital of Kadugli for days "and the mission is facing critical food shortages for troops stationed in Abyei."
He also confirmed reports from UN humanitarian agencies that at least 113,000 persons remain displaced from their hoe and the area, and that "significant returns are unlikely to place prior to the deployment of UNISFA and withdrawal of the Sudanese Armed Forces."
The Secretary-General also announced the appointment of Lieutenant General Tadesse Werede Tesfay of Ethiopia as head of mission and Force Commander of UNISFA. Lt. Gen. Tesfay was Head of the Joint Training Department of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF).