Deadly fighting forces UN mission to evacuate staff from disputed Sudanese town

Deadly fighting forces UN mission to evacuate staff from disputed Sudanese town

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The United Nations has evacuated most of its staff from the Sudanese town of Abyei, located in a disputed oil-rich area, amid continued shooting between Government forces and the former southern rebels with whom they reached a peace deal in January 2005.

UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters today that the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) – set up to help implement the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement between the two sides – has decided to pull out most of its civilian international and national staff because of the safety and security conditions there.

Only the head of the office and a few other international staff members have remained behind to perform critical duties, she added.

Abyei is now almost deserted, with a column of people observed leaving today and the town market having stopped operating. Sporadic shooting is still being reported, including near the UNMIS camp, although the conditions are relatively calmer compared with earlier this week.

Ms. Montas said it was not yet clear how many casualties have resulted from the clashes between the Government forces and the members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which still dispute the Abyei area, located on the border between north and south Sudan.

An impasse over the boundaries of Abyei has been one of the main stumbling blocks hindering the full implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement, which ended more than two decades of north-south conflict in Sudan.

The two sides have now agreed to a ceasefire and to take up law and order responsibilities for their respective areas of operation after UNMIS’ Deputy Force Commander flew to Abyei for a joint military committee meeting. The two sides have also agreed to remove all other armed groups from the town and to prevent the entry of any new groups.