KHARTOUM, May 28 – Sudan’s army will begin pulling out of the contested region of Abyei from Tuesday, as demanded by the United Nations, the army spokesman said.
“We will start tomorrow and we will invite journalists to see this redeployment,” Sawarmi Khaled Saad said in a statement to reporters.
The pullout, ending a year-long occupation, will begin on the same day negotiators from Sudan and South Sudan are to meet in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to resume talks led by African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki.
Saad said Mbeki asked Khartoum to withdraw its forces from the area.
“Sudan decided to redeploy the troops out of Abyei area to offer a good environment for the talks,” he said, adding that Khartoum requested a “guarantee” that the area is part of its territory.
Norway, which helped to oversee implementation of a 2005 peace deal that ended Sudan’s 22-year civil war, welcomed the pullout.
“It’s a very important gesture for the forthcoming negotiations,” Ambassador Jens-Petter Kjemprud told AFP.
After Sudan and South Sudan came to the brink of all-out war in April, the UN Security Council called on them to cease hostilities along their disputed border and to resume talks on a number of issues including the status of Abyei, the most sensitive matter left unresolved before South Sudan’s independence last July.
Saad did not say how many troops are in Abyei, but all of them will leave.
The army’s announcement came after former US president Jimmy Carter said on Sunday, after meeting President Omar al-Bashir, that Sudan was ready to pull its soldiers from Abyei.
“He has notified the negotiators he’s ready to withdraw troops from Abyei, which we believe is a major step forward,” Carter told reporters after he and Algeria’s former foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi held talks with Bashir.
They were representing The Elders, a group of global leaders chaired by Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu.
The United Nations May 2 resolution said both sides had to pull their forces out of Abyei by May 16.
South Sudan complied, withdrawing police who were based there, but Sudan had said it would withdraw only after a joint administrative body is established.
Asked whether Bashir had revised that condition, Carter said: “He did not express to us any reservations or provisos.”
South Sudan has said Khartoum was blocking the creation of the joint administration.
Bashir told the two Elders that he notified Mbeki of his readiness to withdraw his forces.
Carter said “there are very few troops left there,” and a diplomatic source said he understood there are about 300 Sudanese soldiers still in Abyei, where they have essentially remained in camps.
Abyei was to have held a referendum in January 2011 on whether it belonged with the north or South, but that ballot was stalled over disagreement on who could vote.
After a similar ballot, South Sudan separated last July, but critical issues including Abyei were unresolved at independence.
The UN Security Council on May 17 made a new demand that Sudan “immediately” withdraw all troops from Abyei, and extended the mandate of the mainly Ethiopian UN peacekeeping force in the area for six more months.
The United Nations says more than 100,000 people remain displaced from Abyei, mostly in Agok in the area’s far south, and in South Sudan.