Sudanese government forces remain in the disputed Abyei region, flouting the first phase of the withdrawal schedule and complicating efforts to settle the area's status.
Sudan government troops have yet to comply with the first phase of a withdrawal schedule aimed at demilitarizing the disputed Abyei area that sits between Sudan and South Sudan. According to the timeline, signed by Sudanese and South Sudanese government officials two weeks ago, the northern Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, should have withdrawn out of Abyei town by the end of last week. Southern and UN sources say that SAF remain in Abyei town.
In an interview with Enough last Thursday, southern Minister for Cabinet Affairs Deng Alor Kuol, a negotiator for the southern government, said that SAF withdrawal from Abyei town had yet to begin. A more recent UN report seen by Enough also said that northern soldiers continue to occupy Abyei town.
The redeployment of the northern and southern army out of Abyei, a contested area that was militarily overtaken and occupied by northern forces in early May, is a key condition before the estimated 110,000 individuals displaced by the violence can return home.
SAF redeployment may just be getting underway. According to the UN report, SAF troops were observed packing equipment in the last week. Last Saturday, 20 SAF vehicles were also seen moving past the town of Diffra – which lies near the northern border of Abyei – the report said. Beyond Abyei’s northern boundaries lies South Kordofan state, where government forces and the insurgent SPLA-N have been fighting for over three months. Redeployed SAF from Abyei may well join the frontlines in South Kordofan.
The UN report also indicated that “only a few” SPLA remained in Abyei area, though it did not specify where. According to the withdrawal agreement, the SPLA should fully withdraw from the area by the end of this week.