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South Sudan army 'withdrawing' from border

10:16 Fri Jan 18 2013
AAP

The South Sudan government says it has started withdrawing troops from its contested border with Sudan, as part of an agreement to demilitarise the flashpoint area that sparked a major conflict last year.

After months of talks, the two former civil war foes agreed to set up a "Safe Demilitarised Border Zone" (SDBZ) along the largely undefined border as part of a raft of deals signed in September during African Union-brokered negotiations that had so far failed to bear fruit.

"The government of South Sudan has completed the withdrawal of all its troops south of the centre line on the administrative and security map... for the establishment of the SDBZ," South Sudan said in a statement released following the latest round of talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

"This is the first step in the separation of forces and the full operationalisation of the SDBZ 10-kilometre withdrawal from the centre line" drawn from AU-suggested maps, it added.

South Sudan split from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war and a referendum for independence.

But the two sides have been at loggerheads over the demarcation of an oil-rich border and how to divide revenue from crude that the South exports via the north - leading to South Sudan halting oil production last January and weeks of border conflict.

South Sudan has also agreed to demilitarise the contentious and heavily populated area known as Mile 14 by February 4, after months of protest and debate at home.

"In addition to the withdrawal of South Sudan's troops south of the centre line we have also started the redeployment of our forces from the SDBZ, which will be completed by the deadline of 4 February 2013," said South Sudanese Defence Minister John Kong Nyuon.

South Sudan's Justice Minister and chief negotiator John Luk Jok said the new country's acceptance to pull back forces and demilitarise border areas was "demonstrating its full compliance with the signed security agreements and full commitment to their implementation."

Jok called on Sudan to follow suit and "similarly implement fully and unconditionally the security agreements and all other agreements" signed in September that "lay the foundations for mutual viability of both our nations and enduring peace between our peoples".

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