Ethiopia offers peacekeepers for Abyei in Sudan

UN peacekeepers patrolling the Todach area, north of Abyei, on 30 May 2011
Image caption The south says it wants a UN peace force to monitor the border

Ethiopia has offered to send peacekeepers to Sudan's disputed border region of Abyei after its recent seizure by northern troops.

Analysts have feared the Abyei dispute could reignite the civil war between the north and South Sudan, which is due to become independent in July.

Officials say the south has accepted the offer; the north is considering it.

It comes after both sides agreed to set up a demilitarised zone along their border to be jointly patrolled.

Sudan expert Alex De Waal, who is has been working on the African Union-mediated deal, told the BBC negotiations about how it would work were ongoing.

Some 1.5 million people died in the 22-year north-south civil war which ended in 2005.

Border force request

The UN Security Council condemned the occupation of Abyei and called for the immediate withdrawal of northern troops from the oil-producing region also claimed by the south.

But Sudan's ambassador to the UN Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman has said it will do so only when new political and security arrangements have been agreed.

Meanwhile, he said Sudan's government wanted peacekeepers to leave its territory when South Sudan becomes independent in July.

The request comes after UN chief Ban Ki-moon proposed a three-month extension to the force's mandate while the north and south resolve outstanding territorial issues.

Mr Osman told the UN Security Council such issues could be settled at the negotiating table.

But a senior official from South Sudan, Ezekiel Gatkuoth, said the UN should have a presence on both sides of the border.

He welcomed its continued existence in the south, saying its main objective should be to avoid a security vacuum.

"We were asking for [a] more than 7,000 UN peacekeeping force. Then we have asked for the UN to do a consultation with the governors of southern Sudan so that we can have a new mission with responsibility to monitor the border and also protect civilians," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in New York says it is not clear how the UN Security Council will respond to Khartoum's request.

Limiting peacekeepers to the south could complicate efforts to monitor the boundary, parts of which, including Abyei, are contested.

As the Security Council debated the UN's mission in Sudan, Ethiopia said it would send peacekeepers to Abyei if both north and south made the request.

"It is within our interests and that of the region to maintain stability in Sudan," foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told Reuters news agency.

Mr Gatkuoth said Juba accepted Ethiopia's proposal, but Mr Osman said Khartoum was still considering it.

Abyei is claimed by a southern group, the Dinka Ngok, and northern nomads, the Misseriya.

Under the 2005 peace deal, which ended the 22-year civil war, Abyei was granted special status and a joint administration was set up in 2008 to run the area until a referendum decided its fate.

That vote was due to take place in January, when the south decided to split from the north, but has now been postponed indefinitely.

Last week, South Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister said he estimated 150,000 people had fled from Abyei state and border regions fearing further attacks. The UN's currently overall figure is 60,000.

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.

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