The borders of Abyei, often called the "Kashmir" of Sudan's north-south conflict and coveted by both sides, 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. But after Sudan's government challenged the boundaries, a deal was reached with the former southern rebels, Sudan People's Liberation Movement, to refer the issue to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Both have promised to accept its decision. The impact of the ruling on the northern boundary was not immediate.
ABYEI, Sudan (AFP)--North and south Sudan have accepted Wednesday's international arbitration court ruling altering the borders of the disputed oil- rich Abyei region, officials from the former foes said.
"This decision is final and binding for both parties," Mutrif Siddiq, undersecretary of foreign affairs and a senior member of the Khartoum government, told AFP.
Former southern fighter and Foreign Minister Deng Alor, who was in Abyei with other senior officials for the ruling, reached forward to shake the hand of senior Khartoum official Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, the internal affairs minister, after the ruling.
Alor said his Sudan People's Liberation Movement would accept the decision of The Hague court.
"The PCA [Permanent Court of Arbitration] decision is binding on the parties: the SPLM and the people of this area will respect this decision," he said.
But he added that there was still a need to interpret the results to see how the new borders fell in terms of oil reserves, after a Khartoum official in The Hague claimed the ruling granted disputed oil fields to the north.
"There is oil all over the place, we have to see it on paper and on land, so that we really determine where the wealth is," Alor said.
The SPLM fought a two-decade war with Khartoum, the longest civil war in Africa, before the foes reached a power-sharing deal in 2005.
Additional U.N. peacekeepers were deployed ahead of the ruling to the district bordering the Muslim north and the mainly Christian and animist south for fears of a repeat of violence that left 100 people dead there in May last year.
The 2008 clashes razed Abyei town and left tens of thousands homeless in what analysts described as the most serious threat to the 2005 peace deal that ended the civil war.
U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration, who had travelled to Abyei ahead of the ruling, said he was "very optimistic" following the decision.
"Everybody is committed to the arbitration as final and binding, and I think it is going to work out just fine," Gration said.
The ruling, issued after Khartoum complained that a previous border commission had decided on the wrong frontiers, moved Abyei's eastern, western and northern borders.
"Both parties have agreed that this question is now settled," said the U.N. secretary-general's special representative Ashraf Qazi, who had voiced concern about the buildup of fighters in the area ahead of the ruling.
"This decision clearly demonstrates that, even on the most difficult and sensitive of disputes, the parties can find a peaceful solution if they work together in good faith," said Qazi.
"I call on all involved to cooperate to implement the decision according to the plan the parties adopted in recent talks and to guarantee the long term interests of the people of the region."
Abdelbagi Gailaini, a member of President Omar al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party and state minister for humanitarian affairs, said the NCP had accepted the ruling and that he doubted there would be any violent reaction.
"What we have seen today is a good compromise," Gailaini said in Abyei. " Everybody is committed, and everyone is standing by what this file case has reflected."
"I don't expect [violence], but if it happens it will be in very limited area, and we are ready to contain it."
Alor, who comes from the Abyei area, said the southern-allied Ngok Dinka tribe had lost some small areas of land "but would accept the ruling."
The Arab Messeria tribe had hoped to gain more land after the decision, but a tribal leader said he accepted the new boundaries.
"We cannot say we are completely satisfied with this decision, we hoped we would take more than what was given to us," said Bashtana Mohammed Salim.
"But the decision has some positive aspects, [and] as it's a court decision we are bound by it."
ABYEI, 22 July 2009 (IRIN) - The two sides in Sudan's last civil war have accepted a landmark ruling on the boundaries of Abyei, a flashpoint region where tensions had threatened to derail a fragile peace process, in a move that elicited widespread optimism, as well as caution.
"What we have seen today is a good compromise," said Abdelbagi Gailaini, a leading member of the National Congress Party, the ruling power in Khartoum.
"Everybody is committed, and everyone is standing by what this ruling has reflected," he added, speaking from the town of Abyei.
Gailaini was speaking after a tribunal in The Hague redefined the borders of Abyei, considerably reducing its size from a previous panel decision in 2005. Oil fields formally inside Abyei - jointly administered by Northern and Southern Sudan - now lie in the north. However, most of Sudan's oil fields are still located in Southern Sudan.
Abyei town was calm following the ruling, which was broadcast live inside a large thatch hut in the compound of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
"I don't expect [violence], but if it happens it will be in a very limited area, and we are ready to contain it," said Gailaini.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled that the size of Abyei was somewhere between the tiny strip of land Khartoum said it covered and the much larger expanse of territory Southern Sudan claimed it included. In a 2011 referendum, residents of the region are likely to vote to join Southern Sudan.
The Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM), the former rebel group in Southern Sudan, which draws many senior leaders from Abyei, also accepted the ruling.
"The PCA decision is binding on the parties: the SPLM and the people of this area will respect this decision," said SPLM's Deng Alor, who is also Foreign Minister in Sudan's Government of National Unity.
He said the ruling deprived the Ngok Dinka - Abyei's historical residents - of some of their land, but that they would abide by the decision.
"All in all the decision of the court is acceptable and we will implement it."
The top UN official in Sudan, Ashraf Qazi, said the ruling would benefit both the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya, Arab pastoralists. "I think it's going to work out just fine," he said, adding that the ruling would give new impetus to implementing the 2005 peace deal.
"The rights of both communities have been guaranteed as a matter of international law now, and so even if someone is not 100 percent satisfied I do believe this has been a win-win decision for both sides," said Qazi.
"I've got to tell you, I'm very optimistic," said US Special Envoy Scott Gration, reflecting on recent meetings with leaders from both sides.
"The commitments that these folks have made in words, I'm convinced that they will be carried out in deed, and that this arbitration decision will be fully implemented, the border will be demarcated, and the Dinka and the Misseriya will live for a long time in peace."
However, Sudan scholar Douglas Johnson was somewhat less optimistic.
"To a certain extent the focus of attention on Abyei has been able to mask the fact that there has been a failure to actually come to grips with the whole of the [2,000km] border issue. Other disagreements have been overshadowed and therefore not resolved," he told IRIN.
Another Sudan analyst, John Ryle, also urged caution. "It's one thing to accept or not explicitly challenge a ruling, but it's another to implement it. I think that is probably the next challenge in Abyei."
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