North and South Sudan are reported close to an agreement on removing all military forces from the disputed Abyei region and deploying peacekeeping troops in the tense border area. A deal is expected Monday in Addis Ababa, where Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Southern leader Salva Kiir are holding talks.
Sources close to Sunday’s top-level meeting say President Bashir agreed to a complete pullout of northern troops who swept into Abyei last month. The lightning action forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee.
Chief mediator at the six-hour session, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, says the troop withdrawal is part of a package that includes deployment of Ethiopian peacekeepers along the undefined border. "This is a discussion about all of these matters, which constitute an integrated package - withdrawal of troops, the administration of Abyei, the possible deployment of Ethiopian troops, the political and security mechanism and its relevance to the border areas and all of these issues are being discussed," he said.
Diplomats involved in brokering the deal tell VOA the troop pullout would be completed before South Sudan secedes from the north July 9. They say Ethiopia has agreed to a request from both sides to supply two battalions of peacekeeping troops in the area around the undefined border.
A military expert said two battalions would be about 1,000 soldiers.
The peacekeepers would be deployed under a United Nations Security Council mandate. An Ethiopian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said the units to be sent have already been identified and could be in place within weeks.
U.N. special envoy to Sudan Haile Menkerios said the Security Council is due to meet Monday to consider the matter.
Chief mediator Mbeki suggested an agreement between President Bashir and Southern leader Kiir could be settled in time for the Security Council meeting. "The principals are very determined. They understand the urgency of the matters, and they want to conclude the matter in a way that would address all of these matters, so that’s what’s informing their approach. A solution needs to be found as urgently as possible, and therefore let’s continue to engage until we find it," he said.
The expected deal comes as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to arrive in Addis Ababa Monday. Secretary Clinton’s schedule includes talks with Southern Sudanese leader Kiir and possibly with Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha. She will not meet, however, with President Bashir, who is under an International Criminal Court war crimes indictment.