Ruling on Sudan oil flashpoint

July 22, 2009 12:00 am

, THE HAGUE, July 22 – The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will rule Wednesday in a dispute between north and south Sudan over the boundaries of the oil-rich Abyei region at the heart of a fragile peace pact.

The United Nations has deployed additional peacekeepers 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.

That pact offered the south a six-year transitional period of regional autonomy and participation in a unity government until a 2011 referendum on self-determination.

Abyei will also hold a referendum the same year on whether to retain its current special administrative status in the north, or join the south.

Unable to agree on the borders of the Abyei area, the government and SPLM set up a joint Abyei Border Commission (ABC).

While the government rejected the commission’s 2005 report, the SPLM said the commission was correct in concluding that the Ngok Dinka ethnic group had occupied the Abyei area since well before the turn of the 20th century.

The Ngok Dinka are affiliated to the south and have long been at odds with local Messeria Arab nomads regarded as loyal to the north.

In a report earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the situation in Abyei "remains volatile and requires constant attention".

The arbitration court was set to rule at 0800 GMT whether the ABC border determination was correct. If not, it will decide where the border must be drawn.

Both parties have committed themselves to accepting the ruling by the tribunal, whose arbitration they had sought jointly.

Public hearings were held for a week in April.


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