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Abyei Boundary Ruling Expected Wednesday

An important ruling is expected Wednesday on a disputed border region in Sudan. The ruling from the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal could determine the boundaries of the oil-rich Abyei region and directly affect the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA ended a long civil war between northern and southern Sudan.

Monday, the ENOUGH Project issued a new strategy paper on Abyei. Colin Thomas-Jensen, policy advisor and co-author of the paper, spoke to VOA about why he considers Abyei the next big test for Sudan.

"We've now seen a renewal of commitment by both sides…to implementation of the CPA at a conference in Washington last month. But I think that this ruling over the Abyei boundary…is really going to be a test of that commitment," he says.

Pending decision

"The permanent court of arbitration in The Hague is ruling essentially on whether a boundary commission established by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement has in fact exceeded its mandate. And if it has, then the tribunal…will provide its own reading of the border," he says.

The governments of the north and south say they will abide by the ruling.

Thomas-Jensen describes Abyei as "Sudan in microcosm that is claimed both by southerners and northerners. It's an area where pastoralists come into contact with more sedentary agricultural groups. And of course underlying it all there is an issue of oil."

Warning signs of renewed war

"One, you have troops loyal to the government in the north that are already clearly in violation of the agreement where they're stationed. Two, you have an ongoing arms race between the north and the south, including provision of new tanks (in the south) and new fighter aircraft (in the north).

Abyei was the scene of clashes last year.

"We know that this is a hot spot. We know that both sides are arming themselves to the teeth and we already have indications that troops are violating the agreed upon parameters of their deployment,' he says.

Recommendations to Obama administration

"Recognizing that the threat of violence in the wake of the ruling on Wednesday is very real…. Maintaining a high-level diplomatic presence in Abyei…. Deploying peacekeepers more effectively…. Work assiduously to disseminate the ruling and counter the propaganda coming from both sides," he says.

But he acknowledges that these are "damage control" measures and more needs to be done.

"I think ultimately what the administration needs to do…is it's got to work on a very high level to establish a plan for implementation of the tribunal's ruling with clear benchmarks," he says.

If those benchmarks are not met, he says, penalties should be in place "for the parties that are obstructing implementation."