Looting and burning of businesses in Abyei has ebbed and flowed since the January referendum [EPA/UNMIS]
North and south Sudan have signed an agreement to demilitarise the disputed Abyei region and allow in Ethiopian peacekeeping forces, former South African president Thabo Mbeki said on Monday.
South Sudan is due to break off into an independent country in less than three weeks and the question of who should control the fertile, oil-producing region has been one of the most contentious unresolved issues ahead of the split.
Khartoum seized Abyei's main town on May 21, causing tens of thousands of people to flee the area, triggering an international outcry and raising fears the two sides could return to open conflict.
Representatives of the south's dominant party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), and the Sudanese government have been meeting in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for more than a week in an attempt to hammer out a deal.
"The SPLM and the Sudanese government have signed an agreement on Abyei," Mbeki, who has been helping guide talks between the two sides, told reporters in Addis Ababa.
"It provides for the demilitarisation of Abyei so that the Sudanese armed forces would withdraw and for the deployment of Ethiopian forces."
He said the northern Sudanese military, the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Ethiopian officials would now meet to settle on a mandate for Ethiopian peacekeeping forces who will be deployed in the region.
Calls for implementation
The US envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice has called for swift implementation of an agreement between north and south Sudan to demilitarize the disputed Abyei region.
In remarks to the UN Security Council, she also called for the immediate deployment of Ethiopian troops to the Abyei region, which straddles north and south Sudan.
Rice added that the United States would now begin drafting a UN Security Council resolution that would authorize their deployment.
The peacekeepers would go to Abyei as soon as they are authorised by the United Nations and would replace all military forces in the area, he said.
A police service would be established for the region, with the size and composition determined by a joint committee co-chaired by northern and southern officials, Mbeki added.
Southerners voted overwhelmingly to secede from the north in a January referendum that was the culmination of a 2005 peace deal ending decades of civil war.
Some 2 million people died in the conflict, fought over religion, ideology, ethnicity and oil.