ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – North and south Sudan agreed "in principle" on Monday to demilitarize the disputed central Sudan region of Abyei and to allow an Ethiopian peacekeeping team to come in, an official said. Details of the agreement are yet to be worked out.
The agreement was reached after two days of talks between the presidents of Sudan's north and south, said Barney Afako, spokesman for former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is helping lead the negotiations.
"The parties have agreed to the idea that the Abyei area should be demilitarized and they agreed in principal that the southern and the northern forces are to pull out of the area," Afako said.
The political status of Abyei and issues such as oil revenues are yet to be discussed, Afako said. To assist with the demilitarization, the Ethiopian government offered to send in troops to oversee security so that civilians who fled can return, he said.
Afako emphasized that the two parties are still engaged in negotiations and that many details remain to be agreed on.
Earlier on Monday U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. wants to see northern troops withdraw from Abyei and would welcome Ethiopian peacekeepers being sent in.
Southern Sudan secedes from the north July 9 but tensions have been rising over border issues. Abyei, which has pockets of oil and abundant grass for northern tribesmen's cattle, has long been the major source of friction between north and south.
"We would welcome both parties agreeing to ask Ethiopia, which has volunteered to send peacekeepers and to do so as part of a United Nations mission that will be strengthened," Clinton told a news conference in Tanzania. "The United States has made our view very clearly known to both President Bashir and Vice President Kiir and I am looking forward to hearing positive news out of their ongoing discussions."
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir met in Ethiopia's capital for a second day of talks over Abyei. Last month northern troops moved into the region, sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing. Abyei is fertile land near several oil fields. Both the south and north claim it as their own.
Clinton began Monday in Tanzania and later arrived in Ethiopia to address the African Union.
North and south Sudan ended more than two decades of civil war with a 2005 peace accord that gave the south the right to a secession vote. It did so in January; the process is to be completed July 9.