Sudan will withdraw all its troops from the disputed Abyei region at the same time that the United Nations fully deploys its 4,200-strong force, the country's U.N. ambassador said Thursday.
The U.N. Security Council in late June authorized the force from Ethiopia to deploy for six months in oil-rich Abyei, which lies between Sudan and newly independent South Sudan and is claimed by both. The U.N. action followed violence in Abyei that forced some 110,000 people to flee and a June agreement between the north and south to demilitarize the region and allow U.N. peacekeepers to deploy.
One of the key pieces of unfinished business from the 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war and led to the south's independence in July is the future of Abyei. A referendum on its future was supposed to be held before independence but the two sides have been unable to agree on terms.
Ali Osman said Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir plan to meet Saturday in Kharoum, hopefully "to solve all remaining problems."
The new U.N. peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous, told the council that neither Sudan nor South Sudan has withdrawn their forces from Abyei as promised.
Their failure to withdraw threatens to escalate tensions between nomadic Misseriya herders who will soon start their annual migration through Abyei and displaced farmers returning to plant their crops, he said.
Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman told the council that his country's soldiers "will be pulled out."
"However, the withdrawal ... should be organized in concurrence with the completion of the deployment of the Ethiopian forces to avoid a security vacuum," he said.
Ali Osman said about 1,800 Ethiopians are already on the ground in Abyei, and the government is committed to facilitate the deployment of the rest of the force.
South Sudan's acting U.N. ambassador, David Buom Choat, insisted that forces from the south have pulled out.
He urged the council to set a deadline for the withdrawal of northern Sudanese forces "and to hold whoever violates the deadline accountable."
Choat said the south is ready to continue "serious negotiations" with the north on all outstanding issues and "seeks a lasting peace in Abyei."