Hague court to decide Sudan's disputed Abyei border

By Skye Wheeler

JUBA, Sudan
Jun 21, 2008 (Reuters)

Sudan's former north-south foes agreed on Saturday that an international court would decide the borders of the disputed oil-rich Abyei region, which could end tensions threatening a fragile peace deal, officials said.

Some 3-1/2 years after a landmark accord ending Africa's longest civil war, the two sides have not agreed an administration and borders or shared oil revenues from Abyei which the south says contains one of Sudan's two largest oil fields.

The northern National Congress Party (NCP) and former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) will pick two arbitrators each from a list provided by The Hague-based Permanent Court for Arbitration. The four would then pick a fifth chair, officials said after talks on Saturday.

The five will decide whether a team of experts, known as the ABC commission and appointed under the 2005 peace deal, fully implemented their mandate when they defined borders which the NCP rejected and the SPLM accepted.

"If they say it has been implemented then... the tribunal shall put the ABC experts' report into force," said the NCP official responsible for Abyei, Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed. "If they say it was not implemented then the tribunal shall define and determine the boundary."

Observers describe Abyei as Sudan's "Kashmir". A local dispute last month exploded into full-blown fighting between the north and south armies killing at least 90, forcing 50,000 to flee and burning much of Abyei town to the ground.

Under the 2005 peace accord, Abyei's residents will decide along with the south whether to secede from the north or not in 2011. Sudan produces some 500,000 barrels per day of crude and the deal states the semi-autonomous southern government should get 50 percent of oil revenues from all fields in the south.

The two parties also said that a long-awaited electoral law which will guide Sudan's first democratic elections in 23 years set for 2009 would be agreed on within a week.

"We agreed that within a week we should work together as two parties and the other political parties ... to achieve national consensus on the electoral law," SPLM official Yasir Arman said.

More than 2 million people died in the north-south conflict which is separate from continuing violence in the western Darfur region. Fought over differing ethnicities, ideology and religion, the discovery of mostly southern oil intensified the conflict.


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