UN troops awaited to confirm Sudan-S. Sudan pullout

An international peacekeeping force patrols the streets in the contested border region of Abyei on May 24, 2011.  By Stuart Price (UNMIS/AFP/File)

An international peacekeeping force patrols the streets in the contested border region of Abyei on May 24, 2011. By Stuart Price (UNMIS/AFP/File)

KHARTOUM (AFP) – Verification of a Sudan and South Sudan pullout from a border buffer zone has to await the arrival of more than 1,000 United Nations peacekeepers, a UN commander said in documents released Tuesday.

The two countries, which battled on their undemarcated frontier a year ago, had an April 5 deadline to withdraw from the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ) dividing them.

“Until ground verification is carried out, no definite findings can be reached about the redeployment of forces from both sides,” area force commander General Yohannes Tesfamariam reported to a meeting of the two countries on Monday and Tuesday in Ethiopia.

The African Union released a copy of Tesfamariam’s briefing.

He said land patrols can take place once the UN Security Council authorises an additional 1,126 peacekeepers to protect a group of border monitors from Sudan, South Sudan and the UN.

“However I must report… that I am encouraged by the positive intent shown by both the parties throughout this process,” said the general, who heads the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), a contested border region.

UNISFA is expected to take on the extra role of protecting teams of monitors along the demilitarised zone.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon requested the additional peacekeepers in late March.

Tesfamariam said that more than 30 monitors each from the UN, Sudan and South Sudan have so far been deployed, about a third of the number ultimately foreseen.

In the absence of ground patrols, the monitors flew by helicopter over eight locations which Sudan and South Sudan said they would withdraw from.

There was no visible military activity, Tesfamariam said, but each country has filed complaints alleging violations of the buffer zone in certain areas.

“I call upon both parties to have effective control of armed militias, police and communities within their side of the SDBZ,” he said.

After months of intermittent clashes, Sudan and South Sudan agreed in early March to detailed timetables for normalising relations by setting up the border buffer zone and implementing eight other key pacts.

These allowed for a free flow of people and goods across the border, and a resumption of oil flows which South Sudan cut off early last year after accusing Khartoum of theft.

The South became independent in July 2011 under a peace agreement following a 22-year civil war.

Independence left key issues unresolved between the impoverished neighbours, including how much the South should pay for shipping its oil through Sudanese pipelines for export.

Southern oil has now begun moving north into Sudan on its way for export.

Sudan and South Sudan also agreed at a meeting Saturday and Sunday to open eight border crossings immediately, another document released by the African Union said.

These will provide land, river and railway access between the two countries, the document said, but each crossing will have to be assessed “to ensure suitable terrain and infrastructure is in place.”