April 29, 2012 (LONDON) - South Sudan informed the United Nations Sunday that it intends to withdraw all its police from the disputed Abyei region, which is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, a letter from the UN’s newest member told the world body.
The announcement appears to be an attempt to recover from the diplomatic fallout of South Sudan’s occupation of another contested region, Heglig, which borders Abyei.
The UN described South Sudan’s action as "illegal". Juba says it only reacted in self-defence against ground and air attacks by the Sudan Armed Forces. The African Union, European Union and Arab League all issued strong statements rebuking South Sudan and calling for it to immediately withdraw from Heglig, which it did on 20 April.
"Even your allies are telling you [the SPLM government in Juba] have done wrong", said Mutrif Siddiq, the nominated Ambassador to Juba and senior member of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, on Thursday.
South Sudan’s Vice President, Riek Machar has admitted that diplomatically Juba failed to explain its position on the issue, with most of the international community taking Khartoum’s point of view that the area is in South Kordofan.
Juba also announced that it accepted the African Union’s demands for the two sides immediately cease all hostilities. Negotiations were called off by Khartoum after the SPLA took Heglig on April 10.
The decision to pullout of Abyei, which was supposed to hold a vote last year over whether it will join South Sudan, was taken at a Saturday meeting of South Sudan’s cabinet chaired by President Salva Kiir.
"All of these acts of peace are being done to reaffirm and demonstrate with concrete measures my government’s true commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the outstanding matters with the Republic of Sudan," said the letter dated 28 April, according to Reuters.
The United Nations Security Council has reported that both sides have "unauthorised" forces in the region, which was supposed to have been demilitarised as part of a deal that has brought 3,800 UN peacekeepers to the volatile area.
The UN mission (UNISFA) was created in July last year after SAF used force to take control of the area. Khartoum maintains it was provoked into the attack, which displaced tens of thousands of civilians.
The dispute over the fertile region was to be resolved by a plebiscite in January last year but the two sides could not agree on who should be allowed vote. As well the Dinka Ngok, the nomadic Misseriya tribe use the area to graze their cattle for part of the year.
However, South Sudan’s referendum did go ahead with 98% of voters opting for independence, which was finalised in July 2011.
Sudan’s military has previously said that it will only pullout once a civilian administration is put in place as per the Abyei deal last year.