North, south Sudan agree to withdraw from Abyei

By LUC VAN KEMENADE | June 20, 2011 | 10:58 AM EDT

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Leaders from north and south Sudan signed an agreement on Monday to demilitarize the disputed central region of Abyei and allow an Ethiopian peacekeeping force to move in, said a former South African president who is helping lead peace talks.

Thabo Mbeki said Monday's agreement provides for the full demilitarization of Abyei, a fertile land near major oil fields that both north and south claim as their own. Troops from northern Sudan moved into the region last month, action that sent tens of thousands of people who are aligned with the south fleeing.

"The Sudan Armed Forces will pull out and will be deployed outside Abyei," said Mbeki, who helped lead the talks in neighboring Ethiopia.

An Ethiopian peacekeeping force that is ready to deploy will move in as soon as possible, Mbeki said. The U.N. Security Council will decide at a meeting in New York what the mandate and size of the Ethiopian force will be, he said.

The agreement comes three weeks before the south is set to secede from the north, creating the world's newest country. Heavy violence has broken out along the north-south border in the run-up to the south's independence declaration.

Tens of thousands of people fled Abyei after northern troops moved in last month. More recently, tens of thousands of people have also fled violence in the state of South Kordofan. Talks on the violence in that region are set to begin Tuesday, Mbeki said.

North and south Sudan fought a civil war that lasted decades and killed some 2 million people. It ended with a 2005 peace deal that gave the south the right to hold a self-determination vote. The region voted overwhelmingly in January to secede, but the north and south have yet to work out details like demarcation of the border and sharing of oil wealth.