South Sudan pulls back army from border zone

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South Sudan has started withdrawing its army from the border with Sudan to set up a buffer zone between the African neighbours, its government said last night.

The withdrawal would be completed by 4 February, it said in a statement, adding that it expected Sudan to do the same, in what would be a step forward in efforts to cool tensions between the two states.

“By withdrawing its forces…the government of South Sudan is clearly demonstrating its full compliance with the signed security agreements and full commitment to their implementation,” it said.

The neighbours came close to war last April in the worst border clashes since South Sudan declared independence in 2011.

After mediation from the African Union, both agreed in September to resume oil exports from the landlocked South through Sudan, a lifeline for both struggling economies.

But mutual distrust remains deep and neither side had withdrawn its armies from the border, a condition for both to restart oil flows.

Security officials from both countries are holding talks in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to discuss practical steps to set up a buffer zone along the disputed border.

The deal has been complicated by fighting on the Sudanese side of the border between Sudan’s army and SPLM-North rebels who have vowed to topple president Omar al-Bashir.

Khartoum says South Sudan supports the insurgents. It denies that and says Sudan is backing militias in its territory.

South Sudan became independent in July 2011 under a peace agreement that ended decades of civil war fuelled by ideology, oil, ethnicity and religion.