May 28, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The official spokesperson of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Colonel Al-Sawarmi Khalid Saad, has confirmed that they will immediately withdraw troops from the hotly contested region of Abyei.
- Sudanese Army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid speaks during a news conference in Khartoum May 28, 2012 (REUTERS)
Al-Sawarmi announced in a press conference held at the Sudanese defense ministry on Monday evening that the withdrawal process would start today, Tuesday 29 May.
His statement followed the release earlier on the same day of a SAF statement announcing the decision to withdraw and saying it was taken at the behest of the African Union’s (AU) mediator Thabo Mbeki.
SAF’s withdrawal comes as Sudan and South Sudan prepare to embark on a new round of talks set to start today in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa under the mediation of Mbeki’s African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP).
The withdrawal also followed an announcement by former US President Jimmy Carter from the capital Khartoum on Sunday that Sudan’s President Omer Al-Bashir said he was ready to pull troops out of Abyei.
Al-Sawarmi stated that the decision to withdraw was made on the request of Mbeki and as a sign of goodwill on the part of Khartoum ahead of the resumption of talks.
SAF occupied Abyei in May last year after its troops came under attack by southern forces. Later in June, Sudan and South Sudan signed an agreement stipulating the immediate withdrawal of their troops from the region, the deployment of UN Ethiopian peacekeepers and establishment of joint administrative and legislative bodies in the region.
However, both countries failed to uphold their commitment to withdraw until South Sudan did it earlier this month following a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) ordering Khartoum and Juba to pull their troops out of disputed regions.
Khartoum initially said it would not withdraw troops unless joint administrative bodies are formed but has since come under intense pressure to take the same action as South Sudan.
SAF’s spokesman stressed that any potential agreement over the status of Abyei must guarantee the rights of Al-Misseria tribe as well as the non-occupation of the area by South Sudanese troops.
Abyei’s status was supposed to be determined via a referendum scheduled to take place in January last year but the vote stalled after Sudanese and South Sudanese leaders failed to agree on whether the Khartoum-backed Al-Misseria nomads, who cross into the region seasonally to graze their cattle, should be allowed to vote.