JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - North Sudanese troops have missed a third deadline to fully redeploy from the south following over two decades of north-south civil war that ended in 2005, South Sudanese officials said on Thursday.
“The deadline is over, it was December 31,” Major General Elias Waya, from the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) said. “They have started moving already, but in very small numbers.”
He said northern soldiers remained in at least three southern states, but were mostly concentrated in oil areas near the disputed north-south boundary.
A Sudanese army spokesman was not immediately available for comment. The missed deadline follows on-off fighting in late December between SPLA and northern militia forces in the north-south border area. It also comes after months of political wrangling between the former foes.
The former southern rebel movement that now controls the south Sudan government pulled its ministers out of a national coalition government in October saying Khartoum was failing to implement measures of the 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.
The conflict, fought over ideology and ethnicity and fuelled by oil, killed two million people and displaced four million. It is separate from the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region.
One major complaint was the failure of northern troops to quit the south by a July 9 date. Crisis talks first set a new date for December 15 and then moved the deadline to the end of 2007.
Waya, also a member of a north-south Joint Defense Board formed after the peace deal, said a lack of transport had been blamed for the slow redeployment by the Sudan Armed Forces.
Southern officials accuse northern forces of remaining in southern oil areas to retain control of Sudan’s main export. Khartoum says it has only 3,600 troops in the south, while south Sudan President Salva Kiir has put the figure at 17,000.
Fighting between northern militias and the SPLA on the border killed dozens of people in late December. Acting SPLA spokesman James Hoth said the situation was now calm.
Delegations from both the north and south would visit the area later on Thursday, he added.
Hoth said officials had already agreed that northern forces would stay north of the River Kiir running through the area and that SPLA forces would stay south until a north-south border committee finishes demarcating of the disputed boundary line.
He said there were some 10,000 soldiers from joint units ready to guard the oil fields, and that a team had been sent to assess whether that would be enough. More soldiers, now in southern towns, may be also mobilized there, he said.
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