(AFP) – 22 minutes ago
UNITED NATIONS — South Sudan on Thursday called on the UN Security Council to set a deadline for Sudan to withdraw its troops from the disputed region of Abyei or be held “accountable.”
Amid rising fears of border clashes between the two states, the South’s President Salva Kiir is to visit Khartoum on Saturday for the first time since the division of Sudan in July.
The Security Council discussed efforts to demilitarize Abyei since Khartoum’s troops took control of the frontier region in May, forcing 110,000 residents to flee to South Sudan.
“The Sudan Armed Forces must now withdraw immediately and unconditionally from Abyei area,” South Sudan’s UN envoy, David Buom Choat, told a Security Council meeting on the disputed territory.
“We respectfully request the council to set a deadline for this withdrawal, and to hold whoever violates the deadline accountable,” he added.
Sudan has missed one accord to pull out of Abyei by September 30. Sudan’s UN ambassador, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, told the council the forces would only leave when a deployment of UN peacekeepers to the territory has been completed.
Osman told AFP that his government wanted to avoid a “security vacuum” but that the troops would withdraw.
About 1,780 Ethiopian troops out of a full force of 4,200 are already in Abyei where there have been several violent clashes this year. UN peacekeeping officials said another 900 would be in place by the end of the month.
The UN has insisted the troop withdrawal accord between the north and south, made on September 11, does not state that all peacekeepers had to be present before a withdrawal.
But UN officials said the start of the rainy season in the region, which has caused widespread flooding, made it difficult to assess the military state of play.
Choat said South Sudan’s army had withdrawn from Abyei, but the new head of UN peacekeeping Herve Ladsous, making his first appearance at the council, said South Sudanese forces were still in the territory.
Ladsous called on the council to press both sides to withdraw their troops.
South Sudan declared itself independent from Sudan in July following a referendum earlier this year. The two fought a two-decade civil war up to 2005 in which two million people were killed.
The Security Council set up the UN mission in Abyei (UNISFA) after Sudan moved troops in.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed changing the UNISFA mandate so that it can take up a stronger border observer mission. Ladsous said the force would also require four extra helicopters and two planes to carry out the work.
The South’s president is to discuss the many unresolved issues between his government and Sudan in talks with President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum on Saturday, South Sudan’s foreign ministry said.
The future status of Abyei, the division of the country’s oil — most of which is produced in the south — as well as currency, border demarcation and debt all cloud relations between the neighbors.
The Security Council is also concerned about fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, which are on the northern side of the border but have large communities originally from the south.
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