Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has said he is ready to pull troops from a disputed border area with South Sudan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said on Sunday, describing it as a major step toward achieving peace between the neighbours.
Sudan and South Sudan have been at loggerheads over a string of disputes since the southern nation declared independence in July. Clashes near the disputed border raised fears of an all-out war last month.
The 2005 peace pact that paved the way for southern secession ended decades of war between the two sides, but they have failed to agree on the position of their shared border, division of debt and the status of disputed areas including Abyei.
Carter, speaking to reporters after meeting Bashir on behalf of independent group The Elders, said the Sudanese leader told him Sudan was ready to pull troops from Abyei.
“One of the most interesting points that he made is that he has notified the negotiators that he is ready to withdraw troops from Abyei, which we believe is a major step forward,” Carter said.
Khartoum seized Abyei in May last year, prompting tens of thousands of civilians to flee, after an attack on a Sudanese army convoy blamed on the South.
Ethiopian peacekeepers were deployed in the region, prized for its fertile grazing land, after the security council initially authorised the deployment last June. South Sudan withdrew its 700-strong police force from Abyei this month.
The U.N. Security Council demanded on May 17 that Sudan immediately and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Abyei, but Khartoum pledged only to do so after a joint military observer body was created for the area.
Carter said Bashir did not express “any reservations or provisos” during the meeting, but stressed he was not in Sudan to negotiate.
“Obviously we knew in advance that there are only a very few troops left there, and the South has withdrawn their troops, so this is a major step forward, I believe, and it’s very good to hear this news,” he added.
Sudan and South Sudan are scheduled to resume African Union-brokered talks in Addis Ababa on May 29 to end hostilities and settle remaining disputes after the border clashes scuppered an earlier round of negotiations.
About 2 million people died in Sudan’s north-south civil war, waged for decades over ideology, religion, ethnicity and oil.