THE United Nations Security Council on Monday voted unanimously to send a peacekeeping force to the disputed Abyei territory in Sudan. Abyei lies on the border between the two halves of Sudan. South Sudan is set to declare independence on 9 July.
The northern and southern governments have agreed — after mediation from the African Union — that the Abyei area should be demilitarised. The 4200-strong force of Ethiopian troops is mandated to monitor the withdrawal of troops loyal to the Khartoum government from the area, and ensure the safe passage of humanitarian personnel.
Fighting, meanwhile, has continued in oil-rich South Kordofan, which borders Abyei and South Sudan. Concern has been expressed for the fate of Christians living in the area when the country is formally divided. It is reported that at least three churches have been attacked in the latest violence.
The inhabitants of South Kordofan — mainly ethnic Nubians — took the side of the South in the country’s 21-year-long civil war.
In fighting last month, the Anglican cathedral in Kadugli was destroyed, prompting the Archbishop of Canterbury to join world leaders in condemning the violence perpetrated by the northern Sudanese army (News, 17 June).
Over the past week, military aircraft have again dropped bombs over areas of South Kordofan. Up to 200,000 people have fled from the fighting.
The American Ambassador to the UN, Susan E. Rice, said that the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei would ensure that “the agreement both parties reached can be implemented immediately and effectively. This robust peacekeeping presence is an essential part of the viability of these security arrangements to demilitarise Abyei and create conditions for a lasting political settlement.”
Ms Rice said that the US remained “deeply concerned by ongoing attacks by Government of Sudan forces in Southern Kordofan”. The two governments in Sudan should, she said, “agree immediately to a ceasefire”.
The conflict in South Kordofan has the potential to reignite the civil conflict in Sudan. Efforts are being made, however, to ease tension. Last Friday, representatives of the minority Muslim community in the southern capital of Juba joined Christians in prayers for peace.
In a separate development, in the Episcopal Church of Sudan, the Rt Revd Stephen Dokolo, was consecrated last Sunday. He is the new Bishop of Lui, in Western Equatoria, in the southern half of the country. He succeeds the late Bishop Bullen Dolli.