Sudan's Abyei: All forces to withdraw - Thabo Mbeki

UN peacekeeper in Abyei (file photo)
Image caption The Ethiopians will bolster the existing UN force in Abyei

Rival Sudanese leaders have signed a deal for their forces to withdraw from the disputed border town of Abyei, mediator Thabo Mbeki has said.

Northern forces seized the town last month, raising fears of a new war breaking out three weeks before South Sudan is due to gain its independence.

Both northern and southern troops are to leave the area, to be replaced by Ethiopian peacekeepers, Mr Mbeki said.

This deal was first reported last week but details had not been confirmed.

However, two days after the deal was announced, a South Sudan spokesman said rival forces had clashed once more.

More than 100,000 people have fled the fighting in Abyei, the UN says. Another 60,000 have fled violence between pro-south communities and northern forces in the neighbouring South Kordofan state.

Mr Mbeki, a former South African president, announced the agreement in a video link to the UN Security Council from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where the talks have been taking place. He said it provided for the "full demilitarisation" of Abyei.

Some 4,000 Ethiopian peacekeeping troops would be brought in to keep the peace after the Sudanese army has left, he added.

Mr Mbeki said it was crucial that happened as quickly as possible and urged the Security Council to authorise their deployment without delay.

"That would expedite the process of the return of the displaced people to their areas and therefore improve the possibility to address humanitarian matters. And of course it would bring to an end this threat of violence and actual violence in the area," he explained.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement and called on the parties to abide to its provisions, "to demilitarise the area and establish an administration and police service", a spokesman said.

Independence 'done deal'

The US permanent representative, Susan Rice, said her country would immediately begin drafting a resolution giving a UN mandate to the Ethiopian deployment.

She also highlighted reports of violence in South Kordofan, which she said were "horrifying both because of the scope of human rights abuses and because of the ethnic dimensions to the conflict".

One report alleged that forces aligned with the northern government had "searched for southern forces and sympathisers, whom they arrested and allegedly executed", she added.

Mr Mbeki said political leaders from South Kordofan, which lies north of what will soon become the international border, would be arriving shortly in Addis Ababa to try and negotiate an end to that conflict.

Many residents in the state's Nuba Mountains region fought for the south during Sudan's long north-south conflict.

Violence broke out in the state after they were ordered to disarm by the new governor, Ahmed Haroun, who has been indicted for alleged war crimes in neighbouring Darfur by the International Criminal Court.

The chief of staff for the African Union panel on Sudan, Abdul Mohammed, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that the deal was a breakthrough.

He said it would pave the way for displaced people to return to their homes, while the two sides would continue with talks to resolve differences before the south becomes independent.

"Independence on 9 July is a done deal," he said.

Talks on the future relationship between the two states will continue on economic and security issues and to provide a soft border. It is the belief of the AU to make sure the two countries have a special relationship."

South Sudan is due to gain independence under a peace deal that ended two decades of conflict, which left some 1.5 million people dead.

The war ended with a 2005 peace deal, under which the mainly Christian and animist south held a referendum in January on whether to secede from the largely Arabic-speaking, Muslim north.

Some 99% of voters opted for independence. President Bashir said he would accept the verdict of the south, where most of Sudan's oil fields lie.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites