Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hague Court to Rule on Sudan's Oil-Rich Abyei Area

Hague Court to Rule on Sudan's Oil-Rich Abyei

By Aaron Gray-Block

An international court rules on Wednesday on the legality of the boundaries of the disputed oil-rich Abyei area claimed by both north and south Sudan.

The borders of Abyei were outlined by an international panel after a 2005 peace agreement that ended more than 20 years of civil war between north and south Sudan that killed two million.

Last year, Sudan's government, which challenged the boundaries, and former southern rebels, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, referred the issue to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and have promised to accept its decision.

But political tensions have risen ahead of the ruling and analysts have warned it could reignite north-south fighting over Abyei, a development that would disrupt the country's oil industry and undermine the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

"How each side responds is a crucial litmus test of each side's will to implement the CPA," said analysts Colin Thomas-Jensen and Maggie Fick in a strategy report from Enough, a project of the U.S. think-tank Center for American Progress.

"Abyei is potentially an insurmountable roadblock: if the parties do not accept the tribunal's ruling, CPA implementation will be effectively stalled."

The tribunal will rule on a technical issue to determine whether the panel of international experts, set up by the peace deal, went beyond its mandate when it outlined Abyei's borders.

If the court rules the commission did not exceed its mandate it will order the full and immediate implementation of the panel's findings. If it rules otherwise, it will define the boundaries of the area based on the submissions of the parties.

The ruling is important as Abyei has been promised a referendum in January 2011 on whether they want to join north or south Sudan. On the same day, south Sudan as a whole has been promised a vote on whether to become an independent country.

Elections have also been scheduled for April 2010.

But in May last year, fighting erupted again between South Sudanese former rebels and northern government forces in the Abyei region, often called the "Kashmir" of Sudan's north-south conflict and coveted by both sides.

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