March 11, 2013 / 4:55 PM / in 5 years

South Sudan army says to pull out of border buffer zone

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan’s president has ordered his soldiers to pull out of a buffer zone area on the border with Sudan as agreed at African Union-brokered talks, the army spokesman said on Monday.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir leaves after a meeting at the National Palace in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa January 5, 2013. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The two former civil war rivals agreed at the talks on Friday to order the withdrawal within a week to ease tensions that have plagued them since South Sudan seceded in July 2011.

After teetering on the brink of full-scale conflict in April during the worst border clashes since their split, the two countries had agreed in September to set up the buffer zone. However, they did not implement it.

The agreement, if adhered to, would be a major step toward resuming oil exports from landlocked South Sudan through pipelines in Sudan, which Juba shut off during a row over fees more than a year ago.

Both countries depended heavily on oil for revenue and the foreign currency they use to import food and fuel for their conflict-weary and impoverished populations.

“The Sudan People’s Liberation Army has received instructions from the commander in chief of the SPLA, President Salva Kiir, to effect the withdrawal from the proposed safe demilitarized buffer zone,” South Sudan armed forces spokesman Philip Aguer said.

The withdrawal would take about two weeks, he said.

Negotiations over unresolved issues after the partition of the two countries, including border disputes, oil and debt have been marred by mutual distrust from a decades-long north-south civil war when some 2 million people were killed.

The withdrawal of both armies will create a 20 km-wide demilitarized zone along much of the roughly 2,000-km border while the two governments agree on a final border.

At the end of the 1983-2005 civil war, Sudan and the semi-autonomous South agreed to define the border according to boundaries set up by British colonial administrators before independence in 1956, but they have failed to find a map they both agree on.

The two sides also still need to resolve mutual accusations of supporting insurgencies in each other’s territory, an issue which scuppered an agreement in September to restart the South’s oil exports through Sudan.

International diplomats are cautious and say the latest agreement is only as good as its implementation.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We shouldn’t count our chickens before they’re hatched but it is a step forward,” said one diplomat familiar with the negotiations.

Reporting by Hereward Holland; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Alison Williams

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