Sudan: Redrawing disputed oil-rich Abyei region to appease North or South?

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The United Nations has increased its peacekeeping mission in the disputed oil-rich Abyei region of Sudan ahead of a decision by The Hague to redraw the boundaries between North and South Sudan. This comes after their rejection of an earlier boundary drawn up as part of a peace deal. The North stands to benefit more from the region’s mineral resources, if the decision is made. The volatile but mineral rich Abyei region could see an eruption of violence if measures are not taken before a pending referendum. Swerving from calls for a Kosovo style intervention, British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband has suggested a different measure.

The decision by the UN has come amid fears that a controversial ruling could spark conflict and uprising. There is competition for resources like land for grazing and water, and the divisions can easily be exploited.

The oil-rich region is claimed by both north and south Sudan, and has been a hot-spot in a long-running civil conflict between the largely Arabic dominated North and the Black dominated South. However, the main parties in north and south Sudan have pledged to abide by the court ruling.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague decided not to accept the boundaries drawn up as part of a 2005 peace deal, which were rejected by the north, ruling that the eastern and western borders of Abyei should be redrawn, and the size of the region reduced: By reducing the size of Abyei compared with the 2005 proposals, the court awarded more land and mineral wealth to the north, ruling that several areas – including the Heglig oilfied – were not part of Abyei. The Hague court decided on where Abyei’s borders lie rather than who owns the land.

Last year clashes broke out in Abyei town, where over 100 people were killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes. The conflict between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south ended in 2005, after claiming 1.5 million lives.

The UN peacekeepers patrol will attempt to stop many of these killings until a political solution can be found. American Congressmen in 2008 called for Kosovo-like action to be taken in Sudan.

Observers have said that peacekeeping measures are not enough in the wake of the world’s responsibility to protect the people of Abyei, suggesting military intervention, preferably by Nato, as in Kosovo. Some analysts have also claimed that a Kosovo-style aerial attack would frighten Khartoum into surrender.

According to British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, in big and complicated wars – like in Sudan – successful armed intervention is so unlikely that it is foolish even to make the threat. What is needed is old-fashioned peace and peacekeeping and state-of-the-art humanitarian technology.

The locals in Abyei will be asked in a referendum in 2011 whether they want to be a part of north or south Sudan.

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