Abyei dispute: Sudan 'to withdraw troops'

Armed men in Abyei (file image) Disputed Abyei has long been a flashpoint

Sudan will begin pulling its troops out of the disputed border region of Abyei on Tuesday, an army spokesman has said.

Abyei is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, which became independent in 2011 after a long civil war. Sudan's forces seized Abyei in May 2011.

Its status was left undecided in the 2005 peace deal between the sides, and a referendum on the issue has been postponed indefinitely.

Peace talks between the two states are scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

In the talks due to be held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the two countries are expected to cover several border disputes that have caused friction, including Abyei.

Sudan has decided to redeploy its troops out of Abyei in order to "offer a good environment for the talks", military spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency.

He said Khartoum was responding to a request from the talks' mediator, former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

'Guarantee'

It has also asked for a "guarantee" recognising that Abyei is part of its territory, the spokesman added.

Analysis

The Sudanese military spokesman avoided the word "withdrawal" - "redeployment" sounds so much less like a defeat.

Certainly, if the Sudanese troops do leave Abyei - and many in South Sudan will be sceptical until it actually happens - Khartoum will negotiate from a weaker position.

But the Sudanese leadership is clearly hoping to burnish its reputation with this decision, which comes the day before a meeting in which progress - or not - on the African Union's roadmap is to be evaluated.

There is also the prospect of UN sanctions for any failure to make real progress in the negotiations.

There are strong feelings in both countries about Abyei.

The Misseriya, a Sudanese group, take their cattle through the region every year.

The Dinka Ngok, the permanent residents of the area, want Abyei to be part of South Sudan.

But even if from now on the only troops in Abyei are UN peacekeepers, the underlying problem of how to decide its future remains.

On Sunday, former US President Jimmy Carter said after meeting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir that Khartoum was ready to pull its forces out of Abyei.

Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced when the Sudanese army took control of the region in three days of clashes with South Sudanese troops in May 2011.

The dispute in Abyei is rooted in ethnic conflict between farmers from the pro-South Sudan Dinka Ngok community and the pro-Sudan Misseriya nomads.

In April, cross-border clashes centred on the neighbouring oil-rich region of Heglig brought Sudan and South Sudan close to all-out war.

South Sudan says Sudanese warplanes bombed several locations on its border, although Khartoum denies this.

The same month, the South's troops occupied Heglig for a week. It said it pulled out in response to international pressure, but Sudan said it reconquered the territory.

The UN Security Council has called on both countries to cease all bombing and cross-border fighting, and to return to talks aimed at resolving their outstanding disputes.

Security is a key issue, and one that Sudan says must be resolved before anything else, the BBC's James Copnall in Khartoum reports.

Outstanding issues also include oil and the situation of the estimated half a million South Sudanese still living in Sudan, our correspondent says.

But the level of distrust between the two sides is considerable, and rapid progress on the many areas of substantial disagreement is unlikely, he adds.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

More on This Story

Sudan: Coping with divorce

More Africa stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.