The United Nations Security Council on Monday unanimously voted for a US-drafted resolution to send a 4,200-strong Ethiopian peacekeeping force to the disputed Sudanese territory of Abyei for a six-month period.
The resolution establishes a new UN peacekeeping force, called the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei, or UNISFA. Its adoption comes a week after north and south Sudan signed a deal in Addis Ababa to demilitarize Abyei and let Ethiopian troops monitor the peace.
Although the resolution gives UNISFA the authority to use force in self-defense and to protect civilians and humanitarian aid, it does not call for UNISFA troops to monitor compliance with human rights laws, as most peacekeeping forces do.
Instead, the resolution “requests the Secretary General (Ban Ki-moon) to ensure that effective human rights monitoring is carried out” and report the results to the council.
It was not immediately clear how long it would take the Ethiopians to deploy to Abyei, a region straddling the north and south that some believe may have some oil reserves. Council diplomats said they hoped the deployment would be swift.
The resolution said the 15-member council was “deeply concerned by the current situation in the Abyei Area, and by all acts of violence committed against civilians in violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law including the killing and displacement of ... civilians.”
South Sudan is due to break away from the north to form a new nation on July 9. But the north and south have yet to agree on who possesses Abyei, stirring fears a long-running quarrel over the region could sour the secession and could spark a broader conflict.
In a power play ahead of the split, Khartoum sent tanks and troops into Abyei on May 21, outraging the south, human rights groups and regional and global powers who called it a violation of the 2005 deal that ended Sudan’s long civil war.
The move followed an attack on a convoy of northern troops and UN peacekeepers which the north blamed on the south and which the UN said was likely to have been carried out by southern police or soldiers.
As Khartoum moved in, tens of thousands of villagers fled south in a panicked exodus to escape looting and burning.
(Mustapha Ajbaili, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at Mustapha.firstname.lastname@example.org)