South Sudan has told the UN it would pull all police out of a disputed region bordering Sudan and is committed to halting all fighting with its northern neighbor, but Khartoum declared a state of emergency in some border areas.
The conflicting developments on Sunday raised questions whether UN appeals for an end to more than three weeks of border clashes between Sudan and South Sudan would bear fruit and avert full-blown war in an oil-producing region.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan nine months ago under a 2005 settlement, informed the UN that it planned to withdraw all police from the Abyei region, according to a letter from Juba’s mission to the world body.
The letter, dated Saturday and seen by reporters yesterday, also said South Sudan was committed to an “immediate cessation of all hostilities” — after the African Union ordered both parties to stop fighting.
The decision to withdraw from Abyei was taken at a Cabinet meeting chaired by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on Saturday.
“All of these acts of peace are being done to reaffirm and demonstrate with concrete measures my government’s true commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the outstanding matters with the Republic of Sudan,” the letter said.
However, in Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir declared a state of emergency in some areas of South Kordofan, White Nile and Sinnar states bordering South Sudan, a state-linked media Web site said. It gave no further details.
The UN has urged Sudan and South Sudan to withdraw troops and police from disputed regions along their 1,800km frontier in northeast Africa.
The conflict, which escalated after the two failed to agree on a string of disputes, has halted nearly all oil production in both countries, damaging their shaky economies.
South Sudan’s army seized the contested Heglig oilfield earlier this month, but announced a withdrawal more than a week ago, bowing to UN pressure.
Both countries claim Abyei, a border region of fertile grazing land. Khartoum took it over last year after a South Sudanese attack on an army convoy, triggering the exodus of tens of thousands of civilians.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July, six months after a referendum agreed under a 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of civil war which killed more than 2 million people. A similar vote was originally planned for Abyei, but was never held as both sides have not been able to agree on who can participate.
There are 3,800 UN peacekeepers in Abyei after the UN Security Council authorized the deployment in June last year.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Sudan said it had arrested a Briton, a Norwegian and a South African, accusing them of illegally entering Heglig to spy for South Sudan.
South Sudanese officials denied the allegations and said the men were working with the UN and aid groups clearing mines and had gotten lost in the remote territory.
A South African demining company yesterday said two of its workers were abducted by the Sudanese military while on a UN landmine clearance contract in South Sudan.
Ashley Williams, chief executive of state-owned Mechem, said its employees, a South African and a local South Sudanese, were abducted with a British UN employee and a Norwegian.
Williams rejected suggestions by the Sudanese army spokesman that the men were working in support of South Sudan in its “aggression” against the north.