The United States is circulating a draft Security Council resolution authorizing the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian soldiers to Abyei, Sudan for what will become the newest UN Peacekeeping mission: the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA)
Last month, the Sudanese government sent its armed forces and allied militias to the disputed Abyei region. Homes were burned, the city was sacked. In all, about 100,000 civilians fled. An untold number were killed. The Sudanese government has agreed to pull its forces back from Abyei if a there’s a third party guarantor (Ethiopia) to maintain security. Hence, you have the makings of a classic peacekeeping mission. It is all but assured the Security Council will approve the mission.
The problem, though, is that the mass eviction/ethnic cleansing in Abyei has already been completed. The demography of the region shifted when 100,000 people (mostly from an ethnic group traditionally aligned with the south) fled the violence. When it deploys, UNISFA won’t have too many civilians to protect.
The ultimate measure of success of this mission will be whether or not those civilians are able to return. As Bec Hamilton notes, the previous UN mission in Abyei was unable to stop the Sudanese army from rolling in. And if the Sudanese army decides to invade again, 4,200 Ethiopian troops are certainly not going to be able to stop them.
What is needed is a political solution to the crisis in Abyei. A peacekeeping mission, however, cannot create a peace agreement. That requires a real commitment by the Sudanese government, South Sudanese and diplomatic backing by the international community. Until there is a political solution to the Abyei crisis, it is not unreasonable to expect these 100,000 displaced will be very reluctant to return home.
Until they return home, the ethnic cleansers have won.