AFRICANGLOBE – A top aide to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir says the presence of South Sudanese troops in the disputed border area of Abyei threatens peace less than three years after the two countries split.
In an interview with AFP, presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour said peace was possible by an April deadline in Sudan’s rebellious state of South Kordofan, where conflict has raged since just before partition.
But while being “relatively optimistic” about the prospects for an end to war in South Kordofan, Ghandour said the presence of South Sudanese security forces in Abyei was “not conducive for peace between the two countries and may create problems again”.
The UN Security Council has called the situation in UN-patrolled Abyei “highly volatile” and demanded the withdrawal of both South Sudanese security personnel and Sudanese forces guarding a small oil complex.
A February report by UN chief Ban Ki-moon said there were about 660 South Sudanese soldiers and police, and up to 150 Sudanese oil police in the disputed area.
Abyei had been due to hold a plebiscite on which of the two countries it wished to join. The ballot was to take place alongside the January 2011 referendum in which the south voted to break way.
But the Abyei ballot never happened in the face of deadlock between the two sides over who should be entitled to vote. Five months later, northern troops stormed the territory, beginning a year-long occupation.
The area is home to the settled Ngok Dinka ethnic group, closely connected to South Sudan, as well as the semi-nomadic Misseriya, who traditionally move back and forth from Sudan grazing their cattle, and who demand a say in the territory’s future governance.
Ghandour said Khartoum was trying to avoid a new resort to military action, particularly while South Sudan remains locked in conflict between government troops and forces loyal to its ousted vice-president Riek Machar.
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