The United Nations has agreed to a request from Khartoum to withdraw the Ethiopian contingent of a peacekeeping force from a border region between Sudan and South Sudan, state media reported.
“Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi held a virtual meeting with the UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa... in which they agreed to withdraw the Ethiopian contingent from the Interim Security Force in Abyei within three months, at the request of Sudan,” Sudanese state news agency SUNA reported late Monday.
Mahdi pledged to “facilitate a smooth exit of the Ethiopian forces from Abyei and to receive other forces from contributing countries,” SUNA added.
Ethiopian forces make up the vast majority of the peacekeeping mission in Abyei (UNISFA) was deployed under a UN Security Council resolution in 2011, following the independence of South Sudan from Sudan, with a mandate to protect civilians.
A referendum was to be held so residents could decide which of the two countries they wanted to join, but long-standing disputes between Khartoum and Juba over who had the right to vote prevented the referendum from taking place in 2011.
Out of the mission’s 4,190 personnel – 3,158 soldiers and seven policemen – are Ethiopian, according to the UN.
But relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa have deteriorated in recent months due to a territorial conflict over the Fashaga region, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan.
The Sudanese army redeployed its forces to the region in November.
Sudan, along with Egypt, is also locked in a bitter dispute over Ethiopia’s mega-dam on the Blue Nile, which both downstream countries, dependent on the river for most of their water, see as an existential threat.