, THE HAGUE, Jul 22 – The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Wednesday moved the borders of Sudan’s Abyei region, leading Khartoum to claim control of the oil fields at the heart of a territorial dispute.
"We have made a very important gain in this award," Sudanese government representative Dirdeiry Mohamed Ahmed told reporters after the ruling.
"This territory includes the disputed oil fields."
Additional UN peacekeepers had been deployed ahead of the ruling to the district bordering the Muslim north and the mainly Christian or animist south for fears of a repeat of violence that left 100 people dead there in May last year.
The 2008 clashes razed Abyei town and left tens of thousands homeless in what analysts described as the most serious threat to the 2005 peace deal between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that ended the country’s two-decade civil war, the longest in Africa.
The court cut the region’s northern border back from a latitude of 10 degrees 22 minutes north, as had been determined by a joint boundaries commission in 2005, to 10 degrees 10 minutes north.
The eastern and western boundaries were also moved inward, while the southern border remained unchanged.
"We are not disappointed," SPLM representative Riek Machar Teny told AFP after the ruling.
"We think it is a balanced decision that is going to consolidate peace in the Sudan."
Dirdeiry said the north had been "given all that we think is right."
"We have been given a formula that we can live with," he said.
"We can now move to the next step", he said, referring to a referendum in 2011 for Abyei to decide whether to retain its current special administrative status in the north, or join the south.
South Sudan will hold a vote the same year on self-determination following a six-year transitional period of regional autonomy and participation in a unity government as determined in a 2005 peace pact that ended 20 years of war.