Abyei residents reject expulsion of Ethiopian troops in UN peacekeeping mission

Ethiopian troops in Abyei photo: Sudan Tribune

Some people in Abyei have rejected Sudan’s request to replace Ethiopian troops serving in UN peace-keeping mission in Abyei.

On Tuesday, the Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister, Mariam al-Mahdi said her country wants forces from different country to deployed in Abyei. This came after talks about the giant hydropower dam that Ethiopia plans to operate next July, ended in deadlock in Kinshasa, DRC.

The ownership of the oil-rich region of Abyei is being claimed by Sudan and South Sudan.

Speaking to Abyei FM on Friday, the secretary for peace in Abyei Women’s Association, Aluel Dholic pointed out that the replacement of the UN peacekeepers in the area should come from both countries.

“That time when Ethiopian forces were brought to Abyei, it was an agreement between the two countries: Sudan and South Sudan. Now Mariam Sadig should not make it as an order,” she stated.  

She fears that Sudan may be having a hidden agenda it is pursuing through deployment of new peacekeepers.

“We do not know the forces that are said to replace Ethiopian troops and what are assurances? Will they come and work like the Ethiopian forces or they have a different background? And maybe they have different thought to pass a specific agenda through the new forces. Because of that there must be an agreement between the two countries,” she added.

One of Ngok Dinka chiefs, Bulabek Dombek,  says they want Ethiopian forces to stay until the problem of Abyei is finally resolved.

“We want Ethiopian troops to stay until we see how the issue has ended,” Bulabek said referring to the final status of Abyei.

Following renewed clashes between South Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Sudan Armed Forces in 2011, the UN security council installed United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei – UNISFA with mandate to protect civilians.

Currently, there are more than 3300 Ethiopian troops deployed in Abyei, according to a report of the United Nations peacekeeping department in January 2021. In November 2020, the Security Council renewed the UNISFA mandate for six months until 15 May 2021

Chol Marieu, a youth living in Agok, rejected the deployment of new forces in Abyei, “These forces are staying here to protect civilians in the area. The devil you know is better than the angle you don’t know. Maybe the force that will come is a weak force and will not be able to do what the Ethiopian troops are doing here.” 

The Acting Deputy Chief Administrator of Abyei Administrative Area, Kon Manyiet has described the decision as “unilateral and unprocedural.”

 “This will come as an agreement again between the two parties including the UN even,” Kon told Eye Radio on Thursday.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has informed the Security Council that he couldn’t provide options to reduce or terminate the nearly 3,700-strong peacekeeping force in the disputed Abyei region on the Sudan-South Sudan border because of the difference between the two countries, Associated Press (AP) news reports.  

The UN chief said Ethiopia believes the premature withdrawal of UNISFA would likely lead the security situation in Abyei area to deteriorate.

The 2005 peace deal that ended a more-than-two-decade war, and paved way to the independence of South Sudan from Sudan, required both countries to work out the final status of the region, but it is still unsettled. According to the same agreement, people of Abyei were through a referendum, vote and decide on whether to remain part of Sudan or join South Sudan. But the polls were not held due to disputes over voter’s right.

In 2013, the Ngok Dinka conducted a unilateral referendum and voted with nearly 100 percent in favor of joining South Sudan but the outcomes were not recognized.