The U.N. Security Council on Thursday welcomed Sudan and South Sudan’s withdrawal of military forces from the disputed Abyei border region and called for the pullout of police, including from the area’s oil fields.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan last year as part of a 2005 peace treaty that ended decades of war that killed 2 million people. But the neighbouring nations drew close to full-scale war over unresolved issues of oil revenues and their disputed border following South Sudan’s capture of the oil-rich town of Heglig in April.
Negotiations between the rivals fell apart following the capture of Heglig, which has since been retaken by Sudan. But talks under African Union auspices resumed this week and the Security Council said in a press statement after closed-door briefings and consultations that it welcomed the new talks.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said “we’re in a better place” than the “dire” situation last month.
“While many, many difficult issues remain and the progress in these talks is very nascent, the fact that they’re back at the table and continue to work through these issues is certainly better than the alternative,” she said.
Ms. Rice called the current situation “mixed,” noting that while military forces from both countries have withdrawn from Abyei and some Sudanese police are supposed to leave on Friday, the government has not announced its intention to withdraw the oil police.
She also noted allegations from both countries of military activity and skirmishes along the border.
South Sudan has accused Sudan of continuing aerial bombardments in its territory and Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman accused the South Sudanese of infiltrating and supporting rebel factions in its border province, South Kordofan, and other areas.
Osman told reporters Thursday that his government is fully committed to complete withdrawal from the Abyei region, but he said the Belila and Difra oil fields are in Sudanese territory and the oil police are there to protect infrastructure and prevent a repeat of the capture of Heglig which led to serious damage to its oil facilities.
The Security Council adopted a resolution on May 17 calling for Sudan and South Sudan to resolve the status of Abeyi and demanding the finalization of a jointly-run administration and police force for the disputed region. It also extended the mission of the 4,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Abyei for six months.
The council statement on Thursday urged both countries to meet all their obligations under the resolution. It also expressed concern at the lack of humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile states on the Sudanese side of the border. Fighting between the Sudanese army and rebels who support the government in the south has been going on since last year.