27 June 2011 The Security Council today established, for an initial six months, a United Nations peacekeeping force for the area around the Sudanese town of Abyei, which is contested by both north and south and has been the scene of renewed fighting in recent weeks.
Violence and looting broke out in Abyei town after northern troops took control of the area last month, displacing tens of thousands of people, just weeks before Southern Sudan formally separates from the rest of the country, following a referendum held in January.
Last week representatives from the Government of Sudan and their counterparts from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), representing Southern Sudan, reached an agreement that provides for temporary administrative arrangements for Abyei and the withdrawal of troops from both sides.
Sudanese troops will be replaced by the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), which was set up by the Council today and will be made up of Ethiopian troops.
By the resolution adopted today, UNISFA is mandated to ensure that the area is demilitarized from any forces other than those of the UN and the Abyei Police Service, provide de-mining assistance, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and free movement of humanitarian personnel.
The Council took its decision “recognizing that the current situation in Abyei demands an urgent response and constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” according to the text.
The Force has been authorized – under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – to take “the necessary actions” to protect UN and UNISFA personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, protect civilians in Abyei under imminent threat of physical violence and protect the area from incursions by unauthorized elements, among other tasks.
The Council called on the Government of Sudan and the Government of Southern Sudan to urgently fulfil their commitments under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement – which ended the long-running north-south civil war – to peacefully resolve the final status of Abyei.
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang, who recently toured Abyei as part of her visit to Sudan, said some of the simple thatch-roofed houses in the area were still smouldering during her visit there, and looters still roamed among the ruins in the presence of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).
“All the civilians are gone,” she told reporters in the national capital, Khartoum. “The utter devastation I saw in Abyei was a chilling warning of what might become of the border area.”
She urged all parties to agree to a ceasefire and make protection of civilians a priority, adding that they must do their utmost to facilitate access for humanitarian actors to assist those in need and for human rights officers to speak with victims.
“A military solution to the conflict in the border is not an option. The recent agreement regarding Abyei is encouraging, but a broader political solution will be necessary to stem the current conflict in South Kordofan and to prevent it from spreading further,” stated Ms. Kang.
UN officials have been calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities in South Kordofan state where northern and southern forces have also been engaged in fighting in recent weeks.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today that the information it has received indicates continued air strikes and artillery shelling by the SAF in South Kordofan.
Due to the security situation, the Office added, it is difficult to verify reports or properly assess the overall impact of the ongoing military operations on civilians. Estimates by UN agencies and aid groups suggest that at least 73,000 people have been displaced throughout the central and eastern parts of South Kordofan due to fighting.
Humanitarian partners are still unable to freely access civilians in Kadugli, the main town in South Kordofan, including the 7,000 people who were instructed by local authorities to return to the town after having sought refuge near the UN compound.
“Access to this group for monitoring and needs assessment continues to be denied, despite clear indications that authorities used coercion to expedite returns,” the Office said in an update.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and its local partners have distributed food to 42,000 vulnerable people in the area and are prioritizing distributions to locations that are expected to be inaccessible when the rainy season starts. In addition, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided essential medicines and supported mobile clinics in the area.
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