Sudan agrees demilitarised zone for north-south border

UN peacekeepers patrolling the Todach area, north of Abyei, on 30 May 2011
Image caption It is not clear when the zone would come into effect or how it would be patrolled

Northern and southern Sudan have agreed to set up a demilitarised zone along their border to be jointly patrolled.

The African Union-mediated deal comes 10 days after northern troops seized the disputed border region of Abyei.

Details of the deal are still sketchy, but a BBC reporter say the fact that both sides are talking is positive.

Analysts have feared the Abyei dispute could reignite the civil war between the north and South Sudan, which is due to become independent in July.

The UN Security Council condemned the occupation of Abyei and called for the immediate withdrawal of northern troops from the oil-producing region also claimed by the south.

Under the 2005 peace deal, which ended the 22-year civil war, Abyei was granted special status and a joint administration was set up in 2008 to run the area until a referendum decided its fate.

That vote was due to take place in January, when the south decided to split from the north, but has now been postponed indefinitely.

'Town empty'

The demilitarised zone is to include the 2,1100km (1,300 miles) north-south border.

But the African Union statement did not specify when it would come into effect, or how it would be applied in the disputed area of Abyei.

According to AP news agency, the zone will stretch 10km (six miles) from the border, but it is not clear if this is either side of the border, or 10km in total.

The BBC's Peter Martell in the southern capital, Juba, says the significance of the deal is in the face-to-face meetings.

The AU said the agreement would pave the way for further negotiations on security issues to be discussed next week.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency says Abyei town has been "virtually emptied" of its population of between 50,000 and 55,000 people, and large numbers of fighters are present on the streets.

Last week, South Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister said he estimated 150,000 people had fled from Abyei state and border regions fearing further attacks. The UN's current overall figure is 60,000.

"In Agok, displaced people have told us that many people had gone into hiding in the bush to avoid being caught in the fighting," the UN refugee agency said in a statement.

"We are seeing a number of cases in which families have been split during the fighting."

Most of those fleeing Abyei are from the Dinka Ngok, a southern ethnic group who are the permanent residents of the region.

Last week, it was been reported that fighters from the ethnic Misseriya group were in Abyei town.

The Misseriya are northern nomads and one of two groups, along with the Dinka Ngok, to claim Abyei.

The Misseriya were armed by Khartoum and used to attack the south during the civil war.

Some 1.5 million died in the north-south civil war which ended following a peace deal in 2005.

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.

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