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Joint north-south force arrive in Sudan's Abyei

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A joint north-south force arrived to take control of Sudan’s disputed oil-rich Abyei town on Wednesday, hoping to end clashes which killed 89 people and forced about 50,000 to flee their homes last month.

“Now the citizens will come in, and peace will again be restored in Abyei,” the commander of the joint unit, Valentino Tokmac, told Reuters from the town which straddles the north-south border.

Abyei will be the first area in Sudan to come under the direct control of the Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) formed by a landmark 2005 peace deal which ended Africa’s longest civil war.

Tokmac said the southern army Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) contingent of 320 soldiers and the 319 northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) would sleep under the same roof in the west of the town.

The United Nations flew the SPLA troops to Abyei and the soldiers were using U.N. vehicles until their own equipment arrived, he added.

One of Sudan’s two main oil fields lies within Abyei’s disputed boundaries and Abyei has the chance to vote with the south on secession in 2011 making its borders hotly disputed.

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Sudan produces some 500,000 barrels per day of crude and the south says the north has taken more than $1 billion (510 million pounds) in oil revenues from Abyei due to them since the 2005 accord.

Under than deal the south gets 50 percent of all oil revenues from wells south of the border.

No agreement has been made on an administration for Abyei or borders 3-1/2 years after the peace deal, and observers call the region the “Kashmir” of Sudan.

In May a small disagreement led to major fighting in Abyei and many parts of the town were burnt down. A political agreement between the north and south last week decided the joint force would deploy to assume control.

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Reporting by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Matthew Jones