, KHARTOUM, Dec 15 – The United Nations has begun deploying more peacekeepers to the contested Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan, a UN official said on Thursday, while Khartoum insisted it is still not ready to withdraw its forces.
“The flights are already coming in,” a spokesman for the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), Alok Singh Rawat, told AFP by phone.
“We’re expecting some more troops to be arriving today.”
South Sudan Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin in November alleged that deployment of the peacekeepers was being “intentionally delayed” by Sudan.
But UNISFA’s spokesman said troops are arriving “as planned.”
He said a third battalion had begun landing over the past two days, with about 120 additional soldiers expected to fly in on Thursday.
Almost six months after the UN Security Council authorised the peacekeeping mission, troop numbers are at 3,433 and likely to reach full strength of about 4,200 by month’s end as the deployment peaks, Rawat said.
The Sudanese army in May overran the fertile border district claimed by north and south.
More than 110,000 residents fled south, souring relations between Juba and Khartoum in the run-up to the formal independence of South Sudan on July 9.
Under an agreement brokered by the UN and African Union, the two governments pledged to redeploy their troops by the end of September but last month the Security Council “deplored the failure” of the two sides to withdraw.
Sudan will pull out of the area when the peacekeepers are at full strength, when joint administration of Abyei is established between Sudan and South Sudan, and a monitoring committee for the pullout is in place, Khartoum’s army spokesman, Swarmi Khaled Saad, told AFP.
A South Sudanese member of parliament for Abyei on Thursday said UNISFA’s troop build-up was a failure.
“Even if they bring 1,000 more or 10,000 more there, it is useless as they are not going to force Sudan out of Abyei,” said Arop Madut Arop.