Unauthorized troops withdrawing from Sudan oil region

United Nations officials said unauthorized military units are being withdrawn from Sudan’s highly contested oil district of Abyei, ahead of a decision on its status by an international court due this week.

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, July 20 -- United Nations officials said unauthorized military units are being withdrawn from Sudan’s highly contested oil district of Abyei, ahead of a decision on its status by an international court due this week.

"We believe that action has been taken to ensure that the area will be clear of such elements, and that is very reassuring," said UN special representative Ashraf Qazi, referring to the military units.

The borders of Abyei were left undecided in a 2005 peace agreement that ended more than 2 decades of civil war between troops loyal to the Khartoum-based government of Sudan and the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

Khartoum and the SPLA both want control of oil installations to the north of Abyei town, run by Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co., a CNPC-led consortium which is the main oil group operating in the region.

Claimed by both sides in the earlier civil war, Abyei was accorded special administrative status within the north under the 2005 peace agreement, which also specified that the only forces allowed in the area are special joint north-south police and army units.

In recent weeks, the armies of both sides had agreed to stay out of the Abyei region ahead of the ruling, expected on July 22, on its borders by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

However, on July 18 the UN said it was alarmed by reports of forces in and around Abyei who were involved in fighting there last year that killed 100 people and force thousands of others to flee.

Qazi reiterated earlier “reports and confirmations” that southern police and military units from the SPLA were in the Agok region south of Abyei. The SPLA rejected the reports, insisting it was northern troops who were at fault.

Qazi said he was “completely convinced” that both sides were committed to "the peaceful implementation of the Abyei award, no matter whether they are completely happy with it or not."

However, as a precaution ahead of this week’s ruling in The Hague, Qazi said that reinforcements had been sent to strengthen the existing peacekeeping force in the district.

In 2008, Sudan’s oil production dropped by 4.3% to 463,000 b/d, around 40,000 b/d short of the official target of 500,000 b/d, according to government data. Observers cited last year’s violence in the Abyei region as contributing to Sudan’s shortfall in production.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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