Withdrawal of Peacekeepers Draws Fears of ‘Security Threats’ in Contested Abyei

The spokesperson for U.N. peacekeepers in the contested Abyei region says the mission will face huge security challenges if the U.N. withdraws Ethiopian troops from the force as planned.

Ethiopia contributes all 2,000 soldiers in the U.N. Interim Force for Abyei (UNISFA), which monitors the oil-producing Abyei territory on the border between Sudan and South Sudan.

In April 2021, Sudan asked the United Nations to remove Ethiopian troops from UNISFA after negotiations broke down between Sudan and Ethiopia over Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile.

Speaking to VOA’s South Sudan in Focus on Thursday, UNIFSA spokesperson Daniel Adekera said withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops would hamper the mission’s ability to deter attacks because UNIFSA is still waiting for a deployment of troops from China, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping said the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops is ongoing, and that “some repatriations have taken place.”

“With the withdrawal again, given high reduction of the troops, it’s certain there is going to be security gaps and no matter how we try to deploy in critical areas, criminals will also study your deployment and they will evade and go to flashpoints,” Adekera said.

Briefing journalists Wednesday in New York, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said long-standing grievances and disputes between communities in Abyei and neighboring areas have resulted in weeks of violence.

“The mission is talking with local leaders and is urging the parties to exercise restraint,” he said. “They have also stepped up patrols of the areas most affected by the recent violence and have also provided shelter and protection to people fleeing the fighting.”

Adekera said recent attacks by armed men from South Sudan’s Warrap state and from Sudan appeared to be “well-coordinated.”

“I would think it is politically motivated [conflict], and it has to do with disagreement over land,” he said.

Abyei’s inhabitants, who are mainly the Dinka Ngok, voted to join South Sudan in an October 2013 referendum, but Sudan’s government rejected the results.

A U.N. Security Council resolution established UNISFA in June 2011 and gave it the mandate to use force to deter threats in area.

Adekera said confronting various armed groups in Abyei can be challenging.

“It is not a conflict that is conventional,” he said. “In most cases there are hit-and-run people, more of what you can call guerrilla attacks.”

Last year, the Security Council extended the mandate of the Abyei peacekeeping mission to May 2022 and urged Sudan and South Sudan to demilitarize the area.

Source: Voice of America

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