By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sudan and newly independent South Sudan agreed on Thursday to pull back forces this month from the disputed Abyei region, a senior U.N. official said.
The decision, if implemented, could ease border tensions between the two countries.
"This was agreed today in Addis this morning" by representatives of the two governments, Edmond Mulet, deputy head of the U.N. peacekeeping department, told reporters after briefing the Security Council. The Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is the headquarters of the African Union.
Sudan and South Sudan both hope to include Abyei in their territory. South Sudan seceded from the north to form a new nation on July 9 in line with the results of a January referendum held as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between the north and south.
A referendum was originally also planned in Abyei for its population to decide which country they wished to belong to, but it was never held.
Khartoum and Juba have yet to agree on who will control Abyei, stirring fears a long-running quarrel over the region could sour the secession and spark a broader conflict. Neither side has so far withdrawn its forces.
"They have agreed that between the 11th of September until the 30th of September there's going to be this redeployment or withdrawal of the troops from (the two countries' armies) from Abyei," Mulet said.
He said the Khartoum government had originally said it would withdraw its forces when an administration was in place in Abyei, but had now dropped that condition.
Some diplomats attending the closed-door Security Council meeting said they were encouraged by the news, but others were more cautious. "We'll see," one said. "Until it happens..."
Withdrawal by the two sides' armed forces could ease the task of an all-Ethiopian U.N. peacekeeping force which has been set up to patrol Abyei. More than 1,700 Ethiopian blue-helmets have so far arrived out of a planned 4,200, Mulet said.
Abyei, however, is not the only trouble spot along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Serious fighting has also been going on between Sudanese forces and opposition groups in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
The territories are still home to tens of thousands of people from ethnic groups that sided with the south during the civil war that preceded the south's independence.
"Although there are some encouraging signs, particularly the agreement that was reached today for the beginning of a withdrawal ... nonetheless we are deeply concerned about a number of issues over South Sudan and Sudan," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told journalists.
(Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; editing by Anthony Boadle)