Sudan said it had pulled its police forces from a disputed border region, removing a possible obstacle to troubled peace talks with its neighbour South Sudan which also claims the fertile area.
The ownership of Abyei is a major bone of contention between the African countries which came close to war last month after border fighting escalated – the worst violence since South Sudan seceded last year under a 2005 peace agreement.
Sudan said on Thursday it had withdrawn its army from Abyei but would keep police forces in the region, defying a call by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
On Friday it appeared to go further. “The redeployment of the remaining police forces, numbering 169 people, outside the administrative borders of Abyei was completed this afternoon,” Sudanese state news agency SUNA reported, citing Sudan’s military spokesman.
Sudan had seized Abyei a year ago, triggering the exodus of tens of thousands of civilians, after an attack on a military convoy blamed by the United Nations on southern forces.
South Sudan said on Friday it had filed a complaint against Sudan at the U.N. Security Council, asking it to impose sanctions on Khartoum over its presence in Abyei and repeated air strikes against its territory.
“The complaint makes it clear that while (South Sudan) has complied fully with each of the demands (on Abyei) … the government of Sudan has not reciprocated and continues to be blatantly in violation of the U.N. Security Council’s demands,” South Sudan’s government said in a statement.
The complaint also listed more than 100 attacks on villages and towns in the South Sudanese states of Unity, Upper Nile, Jonglei, Western Bahr el Ghazal and Northern Bahr el Ghazal since November, according to the statement.
Juba has repeatedly accused Khartoum of bombing its border states, some of which are oil-producing. Claims are hard to verify as the joint border area is difficult to access.
The two countries returned to peace talks in Ethiopia this week, under pressure from the African Union and the United Nations.
A Sudanese official attending AU-sponsored talks between the neighbours denied the claims, saying his country has only targeted rebels within its territory.
The U.N. Security Council has urged the neighbours to cease all hostilities or face sanctions. A separate U.N. resolution demanded both sides to pull out troops from Abyei, which has fertile grazing land and small oil reserves.
About 3,800 Ethiopian U.N. peacekeepers are currently deployed in Abyei. South Sudan says it has withdrawn its forces from Abyei but an official told Reuters this week it had kept 20 unarmed police behind.
Diplomats see no quick breakthrough as both sides are at loggerheads over a long list of disagreements – from marking the disputed border and deciding on the status of Abyei to agreeing on oil export fees for South Sudan.
South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted to secede from Sudan in a referendum last year, promised in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended decades of north-south civil war.
The new, landlocked South inherited most of the old united Sudan’s known oil reserves. But it shut down production in January to stop Khartoum taking oil for what the latter called unpaid export fees. The shutdown has hurt both oil-dependant economies.