Sudan pulls troops from oil-rich region

Associated Press

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan withdrew its army Tuesday from the disputed Abyei border region that contains rich oil fields and is contested by neighboring South Sudan, handing it over to U.N. forces, the United Nations said.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Abyei confirmed that the withdrawal of the Sudanese Armed Forces from the Abyei area was completed late Tuesday evening local time, Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping department in New York, told The Associated Press.

The Sudan Media Center, a semiofficial media agency, also reported the pullout and quoted Al-Khair al-Faheem Mekki, co-chairman of the committee that oversaw the handover, as saying Ethiopian troops would fill the vacuum and maintain security.

The decision to pull the military out of Abyei comes as Sudanese officials were scheduled to meet with their South Sudanese counterparts Tuesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

The talks followed an escalation in fighting between the two sides last month.

Sudanese military spokesman Col. Sawarme Khalid Saad told reporters that the redeployment would help talks with South Sudan.

In a statement issued late Monday, Saad also denied reports that Sudan's army had attacked the disputed north-south border earlier that day.

"We have nothing to do with what happens in the South," Saad said. "The army has not crossed the international frontiers."

South Sudan military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said Monday the country's Western Bahr-el-Ghazal, Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal and Unity states weathered three days of Sudanese bombardment.

The two countries are set to resume tough negotiations on issues left over from the 2005 peace deal that eventually saw South Sudan break away from Sudan to form an independent nation in July last year after more than two decades of civil war.

Among the most contentious issues are the separation of their once-unified oil industry and the demarcation of the long and ill-defined border.

The negotiations are led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been unable to push the two sides closer to a deal.

Sudan's withdrawal of troops would be followed by the creation of a police force, a local administration and parliament for the territory, Khartoum's official in charge of Abyei affairs Mekki told state Radio Omdurman.

The U.N. Security Council this month extended its security force's mission in Abyei, which includes about 4,000 peacekeepers, and demanded that Sudan withdraw its troops from the region following South Sudan's removal of about 700 police officers in early May.

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Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations

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