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UN: Deep Concern About Sudan's Abyei Region

Residents of Agok in contested border zone of Abyei in Sudan gather under a tree for a session of traditional court, which occurs three times a week here, Aug 14, 2010 (file photo)

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday expressed deep concern about the situation in Sudan's oil-rich Abyei region, where a referendum on the region's future is scheduled for next month.

The U.N. Security Council, in a statement approved by all 15 of its members, notes with deep concern what it calls the absence of an agreement on Abyei. The Council urges the parties in Sudan to calm rising tensions and to reach agreement on Abyei. A referendum on self-determination for Abyei, scheduled for Jan 9, 2011 has been thrown into doubt. The Council welcomed the conclusion of a peaceful registration process for a separate referendum in South Sudan.

In remarks to the Security Council, the head of United Nations peacekeeping, Alain LeRoy, said that although the security situation in Southern Sudan remains relatively calm, it continues to be fragile, and he warned that the security situation could become more tense during and after the referendum.

"As the Council is aware, we are working on options for a possible augmentation of U.N. troops in Sudan, to prevent any deterioration in the security situation after the referendum, and to increase our capacity to monitor possible ceasefire violations and protect civilians throughout the mission area," said LeRoy.

The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, told the Security Council that a successful referendum for Southern Sudan is critical to long-term peace and stability in Sudan, adding that effective completion of registration indicates that polling can and must be concluded on schedule. But she said the status of Abyei remains unresolved.

"Any resolution regarding the future of the Abyei area must respect the legally affirmed rights of the people of that region and it must be reached with the consent of both parties," said Rice. "We also face additional upcoming challenges, including the effective conduct of the Southern Sudan referendum itself."

Rice also called on Sudan to immediately halt aerial bombardments and to end the arrest and harassment of human rights activists and journalists.